Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do You Really Want to Involve Young Adults?

Whether it is the church, businesses, non-profits, professional groups, or service organizations, the question is the same:  “How do we get more young adults involved?”  (The only exception is the AARP!)

When I hear this question, my first response has to do with motivation:  “Why?”  Are you just interested in financial support, the continuation of the organization, or more hands to do the work?  If the answer is “Yes” to any of these, then you are on the wrong track.  If you want to involve young adults in your organization, you must be willing to take some risks and adopt some new strategies.

In a recent article on marketing to Millennials (or “Generation Y”, “Net Generation,” or “Echo Boomers”), Gary Vaynerchuk suggests four tips for connecting with adults in their 20’s.  Here they are with some interpretation from my perspective.

First, listen and don’t talk.  Listening precedes dialogue.  If you really want to connect with these folks, you have to come to some understanding of their perspectives and life situations.  Only then will there be a real basis for discussion.

Second, understand that they inherently want to explore as many things as possible.  Vaynerchuk comments, “Way too many people think that this generation is simple.  Their DNA has shown me that they are far more exploratory than any other generation.”  Perhaps their unsettled nature reflects this desire to investigate all the alternatives available.

Third, you’ve got to tell your story quickly and that story has got to be relevant.  Your message needs to be as personal and pertinent as possible.  Twenty-somethings do have a short attention span, but they are also highly relational.  You have to make the connection between your story and their lives quickly or you will lose them.

Fourth, people want to put the Millennials in a square hole.  In other words, we want them to conform to our structures rather than being willing to adapt to their approach to life and service.  If we really want to involve young adults, we have to step over onto their turf.  This is scary for those of us who lead institutions.  We are afraid that what we have built will crumble. Of course, if we don’t breathe new life into the institution, it will crumble anyway!

To really young adults to make a contribution, we will have to go more than half-way and be sincere about our willingness to accept their involvement and support in the way that they can offer it.  This means that we must be accepting, flexible, and resilient.  This is not an easy assignment, and most of us don’t want to expend the time and energy necessary to do accomplish this task, but it may be difference between stagnation and growth.

(Thanks to Tom Ehrich for forwarding the link to this article.)


Sam Davidson said...

Well put, Ircel. I like the "you've got to take risks" part. It's true. Sadly, not many places are willing to do that.

Ircel said...

I think it comes down to the institutional impulse to hold onto and defend what we have if it is not much! Growth always involves some risk, doesn't it?