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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 30
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2005 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

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In this Issue:

1. Response to question, "How do we get the younger generation to volunteer?"
2. Team building, decision making, problem solving, training exercise: Push the Envelope

How Do We Get the Younger Generation to Volunteer?

Gen Y - the 68 million people born between 1980 and 1994 who constantly question the standards and expectations imposed by society.

Did you know that 30% of generation Y volunteers 80+ hours annually? At least that is what USA Today claims.

If so many Gen Y teens are volunteering, why am I asked, "How do we get the young generation to volunteer?" more than any other question. Of course one reason that so many are volunteering is that many high schools require their students to do community service. How do we tap this resource? Do we actually want to tap this resource? Why have volunteer managers just given up on this incredible source of volunteer power when the schools are setting us up for recruitment?

To answer your questions, I have spend a month researching and bringing together the often contradictory information about the Gen Y-The Millennials. For example, the Marines are recruiting "team players" believing that this generation responds to "teams." However, the Army recruits the "Army of One," believing that Gen Y wants to work alone. Who is correct? Who are the real Gen Ys?

In the next few newsletters I want to share with you ten important characteristics that I have found out about this generation that we need to keep in mind in order to help you build an exciting core of younger volunteers.


Of all of the major generational studies, these three seem to be the most popular:

  • Chester, E. (2002). Employing Generation Why?. Colorado: Tucker House Books.
  • Howe, N. & Strauss,W. (2000). Millennial Rising. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (2000). Generations at work: Managing the clash of veterans, boomers, Xers, and Nexters in your workplace. New York, NY: American Management Association Publications.

They all are based on one basic assumption: Each generation has been shaped by certain historical events that seem to mold most of a particular generation. Psychologist remind us that our core values are programmed into us during our first fifteen to sixteen years of life, through a combination of five major life shaping influences: Parent/Family; Schools/Education; Religion/Morality; Friends/Peers; and Media/Culture. (Chester, 2002, p. 12) Defining events such as Columbine and 9/11/01 have profound and lasting effects on the generational psyche. Combine a major event with dramatic shifts in the economy and national security, and younger children begin to have a different life experience from those just ahead of them.

I believe that the following ten characteristics of Gen Y have been shaped by the events of their lives. As you read them, think of what your organization is doing to appeal to these characteristics.

  1. They are impatient.
  2. They are adaptable.
  3. They are multitaskers.
  4. They are street smart.
  5. They crave respect.
  6. They want to be heard.
  7. They are not judgmental.
  8. They are looking for causes.
  9. They are team players.
  10. They are loners.

Let's look at three this month. I would love to hear from some of you and what you are doing to recruit the younger generation, under 22.

One: They are impatient.
"Googled" is a verb ("I googled it") that has replaced going to the library or the store. They are used to shopping online at 2 a.m. or researching a product on the net so they can be prepared, informed buyers. This generation grew up in the information age where you never have to wait for anything -- everything is available at the click of a button. They have grown up with computers in the classrooms, video games and MTV. They like to be entertained and stimulated across all their senses. They see life as a drop down menu of choices that can be accessed immediately with the click of a mouse. Speed, change and uncertainty are normal for Ys. Fast checkout, self-checkout and quick, convenient meal solutions are the norm for this generation.
They are impatient to move up the organizational leadership chart. They learned by playing video games that when you win, you are promoted to the next level automatically. This generation wants to know, "I have completed this task, so where is next challenge?"

Two: They are adaptable.
They are called the digital generation. My thought patterns are linear-Point II follows Point I with an A, B, and C after each point. I think in VCR mode-If I want to see the end, I fast forward. They think in DVD mode. They can jump to the last chapter without a fast forward. They have never had time to become stuck in old patterns or routines. Therefore, they process information quickly and embrace change. They are progressive, forward thinkers, because they are not wedded to or even interested in history. Life is about what is ahead, and how quickly you can react, adjust, adapt.
They are open to an endless stream of new possibilities. To avoid boredom they have become natural innovators, unafraid of new ideas and new approaches. They are not simply comfortable with technology, they are creating new levels of technology.

Three: They are multitaskers.
There is a lot of speculation today about multitasking. I understand there is a report from Harvard (although I have not been able to find it) that no one can multitask, since the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. To put it in Gen X and Y language, "in multitasking, only one CPU is involved, but it switches from one program to another so quickly that it gives the appearance of executing all of the programs at the same time." What we call multitasking is being able to switch from one thought, activity, or project to another. Tom Peters claims that women can multitask better than men because men tend to focus on only one topic and don't like to be interrupted (guilty). What Tom is saying is that women have the ability to switch from one activity to another faster because we actually cannot do two things at the same time.

This is perhaps why Gen Y can multitask faster than boomer women. They can switch faster. They have learned to balance sports, school, jobs and social time. They strive for maximum results with minimal effort. They possess a self confidence that allows them analyze problems, select options and move on. They do not sit around and wait for things to happen when they know they can make things happen.

Kaiser Family Foundation has an interesting report on media consumption saying that Gen Y consumes three media at once-internet, music and TV. For instance, 20 percent of youngsters age 8 to 18 can surf the Web from their bedrooms, double the figure from 1999, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study. That has helped turn kids into "media multitaskers," researchers suggest. Nearly one-third of kids say they chat on the phone, surf the Web, instant message, watch TV or listen to music "most of the time" while doing their homework. What effect this behavior has on the often fragile ability of kids to focus is unclear because detailed research is fairly new, said Vicky Rideout, the foundation vice president who directed the study.

Evaluate your organization's fit for Gen Y volunteers:

  • Are your meetings on the go? Do they drag on?
  • Do you offer hi-tech meetings?
  • Do you offer new challenges? Ask for a team of Yers to solve a problem. When they solve it be prepared to give them another problem. Or maybe you don't have any problems.
  • You can tell if you have lost the attention of Yers if you notice that they are text messaging during your meeting.
  • Are you stuck in the past? Is your organization filled with sacred cows? Does "We've always done it that way" frame your decisions?
  • Are your schedules flexible? Do you allow for volunteers to work at home, on-line and at odd hours?
  • Actually all generations have been impacted by busy schedules, and we need to evaluate our recruiting and managing techniques. For more suggestions on the 21st century volunteer, see my article, "The 21st Century Volunteer Isn't Like Your Father's Oldsmobile".

Next month I would like to talk about the next three characteristics and also add what some of you are doing to recruit and manage Gen Y. Please send me your success stories to Tom@volunteerpower.com. After all, you are the people who are working with volunteers.

Next Month: Gen Y

  • They are street smart (what does that mean?)
  • They crave respect (how can that help us recruit volunteers?)
  • They want to be heard (don't we all?)
  • They love causes (we all do but, what causes do they love?)

Team building, decision making, problem solving, training activity - Push the Envelope

I recently came across a volunteer training activity that I have used several times in the last month and it has worked very well.

The objectives:

  • To identify issues, procedures, and/or policies that are roadblocks to your volunteer program.
  • To develop creative ideas from your volunteers on how you can remove these roadblocks.
  • To involve the volunteers in the decision making.


Divide your group into at least three teams of 3-6 people in each group. Having four teams of 4-6 works great.

Step One: Identify team # and team concern.

  • Give each team a number and write that number on a large (i.e. 8 ½ X 11) envelope.
  • Give each team five minutes to write an obstacle to volunteer effectiveness and write it on the outside of the envelope.
  • Each team writes on a large envelope a concern using the following formula:

    How can we ________________, when (faced with a barrier, roadblock, challenge, or problem) ________________?

    1. How can we reward our volunteers when we have no budget for volunteer recognition?
    2. How can we increase our volunteer retention when our paid staff are so negative about our volunteers and they just keep saying, "We need to hire more staff and not use volunteers."

Step Two: Pass the envelope.

  • When each team is done (in five minutes), pass the envelope to the next team.
  • Read the obstacle and develop a suggestion on how the team can take the initiative to address the obstacle.
  • Write the answer on a piece of 81/2 X 11 binder paper and place it in the envelope.

Step Three: Pass the envelope again and again (as many teams as you have).

  • When the team is finished, they pass the envelope to the next team.
  • The team reads the new obstacle and works on a suggestion for the new problem. They cannot not open the envelope to see what other teams have suggested.
  • They develop their solution, write it on the binder paper, put their suggestion into the envelope and pass the envelope to the next team.

Step Four: Pick the best solution.

  • When the envelope arrives back, it will have suggestions from each team. Read all of the suggestions and pick the best one (or a combination of the best ideas).

Step Five: Reports

  • Each team reads their obstacle and the solution that they have chosen to the entire group.
  • Discuss the obstacles and possible solutions.

If you have four teams, this exercise takes about 45 minutes.

Thomas W. McKee
Volunteer Power

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

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