Generational Differences in Volunteerism (Originally published November 2008)

The 2008 U.S. presidential campaigns demonstrated that volunteerism and charitable giving are alive and well in America. So why are so many nonprofits seeing their volunteer rates and fundraising decrease? Generational shifts in values and attitudes toward the role of nonprofit organizations give us a clue:
  • Traditionalists grew up in the wake of the Great Depression, leaving them with a sense of duty to give back to society and make a lasting contribution.
  • Baby Boomers came of age during the political upheaval of the 1960's and 1970's and believe in the power of advocacy to impact social change.
  • Generation Xers witnessed the decrease in government funding for social needs during the 1980's and emerged as independent minded social entrepreneurs.
  • Millennials are used to team-based learning and volunteer requirements at school and are looking to grassroots activism to solve the world's problems as they mature.
The shortage of volunteer leaders that many nonprofits and their boards bemoan is not due to lack of interest, but due to fundamental differences in the way each generation sees the role of the nonprofit in society. To bridge the divide nonprofits will need to recognize and capitalize on the unique skills and motivations of each generation. The future of the nonprofit world depends on it.

For details on any of these solutions or insight into managing the different generations contact us at