by Steven Hacker | December 01, 2016

Staying on top of cultural hot topics and the relentless march of technological advancements can be overwhelming for anyone, much less an association navigating the modern marketplace. A seemingly daily barrage of current affairs may or may not turn public opinion against a product, an organization or, heaven forbid, an industry; think about how transgender issues, the immigration debate and the presidential election have shaped the decisions of both corporations and nonprofit groups over the last year. But aside from assessing how technology trends and the new president will affect the future of your group, there’s a bigger issue that your association needs to address, one that will have potentially longer-lasting ramifications and determine its ability to successfully move forward, and that is cultivating connections with those of the millennial generation, who have steadily been moving into the workforce and are already leading some of the nation’s most dynamic and forward-thinking organizations.

Who are Millennials & What are They Seeking? The millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, is composed of individuals born sometime between the mid-1980s and 2004 (demographers continue to disagree somewhat about its precise parameters), which means that older millennials are in their early 30s and young ones will soon be entering their teens. According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, there are between 75 and 80 million millennials, and they now outnumber baby boomers, formerly the historically largest-ever segment of the American population. As an increasing number of talented and ambitious millennials begin to apply for jobs, now’s the time for nonprofits to broadly embrace their arrival and even introduce them to the boardroom and its responsibilities.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a fascinating presentation by Jason Dorsey, co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Center for Generational Kinetics, an organization that conducts generational research, provides consulting services and maintains a stable of top speakers on generational issues. I recommend subscribing to the center’s complimentary digital newsletter and grazing its website ( for insightful blogs and reports that address workplace issues many groups currently face.

Dorsey is, no surprise, a millennial who has appeared repeatedly on TV and websites because the story he tells is so important. According to Dorsey, no generational cohort exists in a box and every generation contains “powerful clues that can drive measurable organizational growth.” That includes millennials, who tend to be depicted as self-absorbed slackers slow to transition into adulthood. Quite to the contrary, according to the center’s research report “Unlocking Millennial Talent 2015: Brand New Insights for Employing the Fastest Growing Generation in the Workplace,” which offered statements that reveal the top five things that drive millennial employee engagement (listed in order of importance to those questioned):

1. I feel I am valued in this organization.

2. I have confidence in the leadership of this organization.

3. I like the type of work that I do.

4. Most days, I feel I have made progress at work.

5. This organization treats me like a person, not a number.

The report also noted how relational judgments have a large impact on millennial engagement, a fact that is too often overlooked or undervalued by non-millennials. According to the report, the best employers of millennials are those in which millennials could attest:

1. I have a good understanding of how this organization is doing financially.

2. Staffing levels are adequate to provide quality products/services.

3. There is room for me to advance at this organization.

4. Changes that may affect me are communicated to me prior to implementation.

Can your association say it is equally transparent and genuine about matters such as the true financial position of the organization, what upward career paths exist and how strategy modifications might affect some or all employees? Nonprofit groups have commonly been vulnerable to not providing adequate staffing levels (often due to budget constraints), which can impose stress on existing employees and make them feel they can’t produce work of which they can be justly proud because they are stretched too thin. This is an issue many associations have failed to address and one that might quickly drive millennial talent elsewhere.

Generation Y & the Job Search Employers interested in attracting millennials should keep in mind that individuals from this generation grew up in front of computer screens. For them, technology is a daily “go-to” solutions provider and the way to apply for work; in fact, according to research from the Generational Kinetics study, 43 percent of millennials think that they should be able to apply for a job on a tablet, and 39 percent expect to be able to apply for a job on a smartphone. It’s also worth noting that 47 percent more millennials than non-millennials found their current positions through an online job search.

Also popular when job seeking is the website (whose tagline is “Get Hired. Love Your Job.”). It offers details about employers, including reviews by their employees. Just as bad restaurant reviews can drive customers away, a poorly reviewed organization on Glassdoor can drive promising talent elsewhere, so check to see if your association has been reviewed on this website and whether it is viewed favorably.

Millennials seeking job opportunities are also piqued by employment branding. Applicants want to know that their interests align with your organization’s brand. This is made evident to them in the way you create job descriptions, discuss career paths and make it easy to apply for positions. Equally important is how you bring your organization’s mission and purpose to life. According to Generational Kinetics material, “More than any other generation, millennials want to know and believe in your mission and purpose, which should include valuing your employees and their personal and professional growth.”

Finally, although millennials have been characterized as lacking in the loyalty department, it would be more appropriate to state that individuals of this generation are looking to devote themselves to an organization in which they can make a difference. According to research, 60 percent of millennials said a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose their current employer. And that’s the kind of crowd any association executive can agree is worth attracting and putting in charge of future operations.