Don't Give Millennials What They Want, Invest in Them Short-term

Oct 26, 2012 | Updated Dec 26, 2012

Millennials have been painted as know-it-all, me-first, do-now-ask-questions-later individuals. We are the generation that everyone has been trying to figure out. Nonprofits, especially, are trying to figure out how to further engage us -- to reel our generation in and keep them as long-term advocates.

Data found in The Millennial Impact Report shows that 58 percent of our generation prefer to have a short-term volunteer opportunity.

What if there was a program that gave millennials a chance to commit for just a short time -- to advance their resume by taking on leadership roles -- and a program that also harnessed the millennial generation's eagerness to make an impact? A program that was little to no cost for nonprofits to bring in this type of millennial... hmm.

National service programs are exactly the answer.

These are answers taken from a short questionnaire given to millennials who are currently serving as AmeriCorps VISTA's or as ConAgra Child Hunger Corps members:

"Most nonprofit jobs that I was exploring required a minimum of a year to five years of experience. I wanted to start off in a nonprofit, but I knew I did not have the experience to successfully apply for the jobs I was interested in... "

"I wanted to be a part of something new and exciting. Something that had the potential to make change, do good, and to give back."

"I knew I wanted to make a difference."

"I could get experience working in the nonprofit world without getting stuck in a permanent position that would make it difficult to go back to school."


Millennials are embracing these programs. However, if you combine participation rates of AmeriCorps, Child Hunger Corps, Peace Corps, and the National Health Service Corps, less than 0.1 percent of the millennial population participate in these programs.

"Some [millennials] perceive service programs as a waste of time because the pay is not a lot."

It's true. The pay isn't a lot. That perception is correct. But these service corps members can make a world of difference for any nonprofit.

Child Hunger Corps members spend two years at a Feeding America network member location with the mission to increase the number of nutritious meals and snacks to children in need in local communities throughout the United States.

I have seen the success of this program firsthand while beginning my work at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. Eddie Oliver graduated from Macalester College in 2011 with a B.A. in political science. He joined Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana in August 2011 as a member of the second cohort of the ConAgra Foods Child Hunger Corps and he has recently begun his final year of the two-year service program and is continuing to work on the implementation and evaluation of Gleaners' youth programs.

Oliver's first year was spent compiling needs assessments and analysis, leading into piloting our Summer Feeding Program for children who had little or no access to food during the summer months because they were not in school. The program piloted in three counties in rural Indiana, in communities where you have to take time to stop and remind yourself that you are still in the United States. In one of those three counties, one of every three children is food insecure. Because of our Child Hunger Corps members' willingness to take charge of a program -- despite making a small amount of money and having to move away from home -- our Summer Feeding Program successfully provided more than 14,000 meals to hungry kids.

When asked whether or not they thought all nonprofits would benefit from some type of national service program that plugs young professionals into organizations, millennials offered a resounding response:

"One, it is free on the nonprofits' end. Two, it is placing someone who is young, passionate, and
ready to change the world in an organization that, most likely, desperately needs help."

"Who wouldn't want to hire a group of open-minded, passionate, and dedicated young professionals who aspire to make the world a better place?"

"Young professionals don't take service jobs because they can't find something else, but because they want to effectively help people and gain experience."

"Even if [service corps] members do not stay in the sector at the end of their placement, it is likely that they will continue to be advocates for that cause."

Millennials tend to be very generous with their time. The Millennial Impact reports that 63 percent of the surveyed millennials volunteered for a nonprofit in 2011. Combine this with a millennial's eagerness to gain professional experience and you have a population willing to serve.

The point here is not to disprove the millennial mindset I mentioned at the beginning of the post because I think it is a just generalization. But the point of this article is to open the eyes of nonprofits everywhere, that a small, short-term investment in young professional can go a long way. You will receive someone who is a know-it-all, someone who will refer to Google and Twitter to ask a question and dive deep until they find the right answer. You will receive someone who is me-first, who wants results that are successful in order to put more meat on their resume. And, you will receive someone who is do-now-ask-questions-later -- this may scare you, but it will turn out for the better more often than not.