3 qualities shared by all great volunteer engagements for millennials

The experts agree – Millennials need purpose at work to stay engaged. In an interview with IndustryWeek, Joan Snyder Kuhl, co-author of Peter Drucker’s “Five Most Important Questions”, explained

“[Millenials] are actually driven by making a difference, seeing that they have a contribution to a larger purpose, not just a siloed individual role…That’s because they are the first global generation…They grew up knowing about problems that were outside of their neighborhood. They saw that they could use their time…to give back and how that feels good. It’s like mentoring. No matter how much you give, you get back so much more.”

Joan is absolutely correct. A Deloitte survey found that millennials are twice as likely to be very satisfied with the progression of their career when they have the opportunity to conduct community involvement through their employer. Deloitte also found that 62 percent of millennials would prefer to work for a company that provides opportunities to apply their skills to benefit nonprofits.

ben-van-rooyMeet Benjamin, a millennial employee of American Express. His title is Business Strategy Director, but what gets him out of bed in the morning is much broader than just his day job. He is an amateur photographer, and has volunteered extensively as a teacher, board member, and advisor.

Last year, Benjamin was invited by American Express to join a group of fellow employees to mentor nonprofit professionals and social entrepreneurs.

“I was attracted by the opportunity to give back in a way that was more than painting a fence,” shares Benjamin. “It is very satisfying to see the impact that you can have by spending a few months helping someone.”

On MicroMentor, Benjamin helped JustFood, a local food advocacy nonprofit in NYC, and liked that he could use his skills to further a mission, “I am very passionate about good food and healthy eating.”

In fact, Benjamin went on to tell us that opportunities like these add back to his satisfaction with being part of American Express, “American Express makes a very concentrated effort at philanthropy and volunteering. It’s one of the things that I really love about working there.”

Sometimes when you think of a mentor or advisor, images of a sage old veteran come to mind. Yet this cliche doesn’t do justice for the broader world of mentoring. Though early in his career, Benjamin’s knowledge of business strategy and websites were critical to JustFood’s redesign process because he had gained specialized skills from American Express – something that is difficult to do in a small nonprofit.

Benjamin was able to add key customer research to JustFood’s arsenal of tactics . The result of stepping back and surveying customers led to a fundamental shift in the trajectory of JustFood’s website redesign. If you want to create more happy millennial employees like Ben, here’s what to look for…

  • 1. Leverage and refine their skills: look for a volunteer engagement that can become a platform for professional growth. These could include pro bono advising or mentoring, team research or design projects, board participation, or event management. Taproot Foundation created an excellent Talent Development Roadmap to help you map employee skills to pro bono opportunities.
  • 2. Helping others (directly): These days, it’s not enough to know that on some level, your work connects to a greater good. Millennials want to see impact first-hand, and there is no better way to do this than to match them up with a high-impact project where they can work closely with the beneficiaries one-on-one. When they really help, they know it because the beneficiary will tell them what their contribution has meant.
  • 3. Broaden horizons: For Benjamin, the opportunity to step outside of the for-profit world was refreshing, “This helped me to look at work from a different perspective. A nonprofit has different ways of planning, different constraints, and different resources.” At JustFood, he learned about a new topic, worked with new peers, and found new applications for his original skillset. Opportunities that get people out of routine thinking and habits provide a much-needed reset to stay fresh and motivated at work.

In truth, what engages millennials is also what engages most employees. The difference is one of degree, not type – whereas many employees appreciate the opportunity to apply skills to meaningful work, millennials expect it, and have no qualms shopping around until they find the job the that comes with a sense of purpose.


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