Generational shifts in leadership are happening across all sectors, the nonprofit sector is not unique in facing this challenge. Each generational group has its own unique life experiences, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, and values. To successfully integrate these diverse generations into your board of directors, organizations will need to embrace changes in recruitment and orientation strategies, how expectations are communicated, and creating an organizational culture that actively demonstrates respect and inclusion while appreciating differences and similarities alike.

The current make-up of Americans falls roughly into the following generational categories:

  • Trads (born 1928 – 1945): This generation was born during and heavily influenced by the Great Depression and World War II. They were the first to realize the American dream after the war.
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964): This generation was born during the economic boom after World War II. Their younger years were marked by protests against authority. They were primarily workaholics willing to put in the work to rise the corporate ladder.
  • Generation X (born 1965 – 1980): This generation grew up with computers and saw the rise of the Internet. Contrary to many of their parents, they have a marked desire for work-life balance and resist being workaholics.
  • Millennials, also called Generation Y (born 1981 – 1996): This generation grew up in the Internet age and can be effective with multi-tasking. Though much of their social life is online, they do prefer collaborative team-oriented environments.
  • Generation Z (born 1997 – present): This generation makes up the largest percentage of the population, almost 25%. By 2020, they will account for one-third of the U.S. population, certainly worth paying attention to.

In 2016, millennials became the largest generation in the workforce. This changes the nature of our workplaces and our organizations. Rather than being breeding ground for more conflict, consider the additional opportunities for teamwork and partnership.

Remember: we all carry stereotypes about our own generation and about others. Stereotypes have kernels of truth, but they can also confine us from building connections across generations!

Here are some strategies for working better together:

Generation Need to: Should avoid:
Baby Boomers Partner & Challenge

Partner with Gen X in leadership

Challenge, push, and encourage Gen X & Y to build leadership skills

Recognize that social change does not start and end with their generation

Resisting the Transition

Refuse to plan for leadership transition

Do not share what could work and what could work differently

Be unwilling to share decision-making with younger staff

Generation X Support & Push

Support millennials & expect pressure from them

Partner with boomers while pushing against them with knowledge

Bridge the boomer and millennial generations

Defining Leadership in Reaction to Previous Generation

Remain alienated or feel threatened

Become cynical about making a change

Look at only what individuals, not systems, can change

Millennials Learn & Confront

Learn from previous generations & respect their contributions

Raise new ways to do the work

Make mistakes, and learn from the experience

Diluting Impact and Progress

Ignore previous generations and their knowledge (or mistakes)

Move on instincts and passions
without connecting to others

Ignore analysis of systems that create problems to be addressed

This post was adapted from a longer presentation by Jess Hampton, CNS’s Program Director. If you’d like her to teach your board about working across generations, contact us today!

Sources include:

  • Pew Research Center (Generational Cohorts)
  • Pew Research Center analysis of monthly 1994-2017 Current Population Survey (IPUMS)