Let me make this clear right from the beginning: non-profits cannot afford to ignore Generation Y. Period. Our numbers and our skills are so large and so necessary that to pretend as though our existence is a fad will only be detrimental.

With that said, I also realize that given the diversity and size of the sector some organizations may be better poised for gen y integration than others. Some may have a budget large enough to offer perks such as loan forgiveness while others are operating with a “all-hands-on-deck!” mentality simply taking any labor that they can and not really rewarding it. This is not about dismissing people or being self important–it’s about integration and sustainability.

This list is inspired by the numerous discussions I have had with my peers and the research I continue to do as one of the founding partners for OnlyUp.org, a start-up non-profit dedicated to supporting non-profit employees under 30.

Do:

  1. Discuss differences: The different expectations of employees is sometimes laughed off: those silly Millennials wanting the world to stop for them and…those silly Boomers wanting the world to stop for them. However, those jokes easily translate into tension as employees resent each other for what they may view as unearned or undeserved praise. So why not sit down and ask “What should we know about your generation?”  Rosetta Thurman did this kind of activity and uncovered some powerful feelings that really shape how an organization operates.
  2. Let them start a project: I’ve started two projects that have required no money and have gotten us lots of publicity. It helps to have fresh eyes at the organization who see issues differently. Set some guidelines and just let them be creative! If they succeed more publicity and praise for the organization. If they fail, pick up and try again. The sector wouldnt exist without taking risks.
  3. Provide time for professional development: If you cant pay for it at least allow them time to participate in seminars, workshops, and conferences.
  4. Give flexible hours: Work/life balance is a major issue for our generation and consequently a major deterrent for entering the non-profit sector. So if we have to work a Saturday, how about leaving early Friday or a day off the following week? Or coming in early at the beginning of the week (when everyone is busiest) and later towards the end of the week (when work dies down)?
  5. Hire more than one person under 30: The one thing I love about my job last year is that I was able to connect with other young non-profit employees. No, I didnt become friends with every person under 30 but it did make the working environment better to not be the only young person in the office. Little differences like kids, health, and work life can make conversations difficult. A friend eases the tension.

Don’t

  1. Treat them like cheap labor: Treat us as valuable employees who are giving an important service.
  2. Talk down to them: Every time I hear the phrase “Well you’re young so…” I shut down. I completely stop listening. Already my presence has been devalued and I have been dismissed. This only creates tension.
  3. Segregate them: To address the issue of youth involvement, separate groups are formed for them. We are put in charge of small side projects, very rarely meeting with anyone outside of our gen y circle. While this can be valuable for its networking and community purposes, as a solution it is not enough–you cannot bring change by operating in a bubble, nor will you be sufficiently challenged. Full generational integration in every aspect of the organization should be the goal. How many young employees do you have? How many young employees on your board? How many sitting at the decision making table?
  4. Ignore their concerns: Firstly, try asking for their concerns! When we sign on to work for an organization we have a sense of what the culture is like so more often than not our concerns are small that could have a huge impact.
  5. Forget that we all want the same things: Not just in terms of social change but also in terms of work. Sometimes I am astonished at the attitudes some people have toward the requests of younger employees. You mean YOU dont want more flexible hours? YOU dont want a nice work environment where everyone feels respected? YOU dont want professional development or mentoring to improve your performance? Of course you do! How does fulfilling the desires of younger employees hurt?

Updates: I’m glad to see the conversation on this topic is growing. Bea Field, co-author of Millennial Leaders has added some excellent tips to this list. My favorites:

Do provide mentoring and coaching and reverse mentoring/coaching is better than one way mentoring. Get your Gen Ys involved in an interactive form of mentoring (let them coach you as well!)

Don’t focus on money or increase in salary as a perk. While this is important, Gen Y is much more inclined to stick with your company if you are giving them meaningful work, flexible work hours and free time to do what they love.

What else would you add?