Back when I was in school, we always used to call the work world “real life.” After school, we would enter “real life,” get a job, get a car, do what grown ups did.
Somehow, I became a grown up, and somehow I’m now in a position where I can look back and say “I’ve been doing this for 20 years…” That’s kind of cool. But what’s even more cool is that I continue to learn new things every day in this “real life.” Shocker! Who would have known that we would learn all these things after we got our degrees (I know, looking back, it seems funny that we could ever think otherwise.)
The reason I learn so much — and why the work world is such a cool place to be — is that it is filled with so many great people. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations, which have always been a place where truly interesting, passionate people seek their “fortunes” (fortunes that are all about making change and doing good).
This excitement factor, this vibe that makes nonprofits such a compelling proposition for employment is more evident today than ever before. I think that’s because the workforce has become so much more diverse, so much more rich in the engagement experience it offers. People are seeking what my boss likes to call “careers with meaning.” They want to make a living while doing good, and that’s what nonprofit life is all about.
Unquestionablly, Millennials are a big part of this. The tech and media generation has grown up with hugely increased exposure to marketing and branding and that means hearing more about the role nonprofits play in society. I know I was aware of a few nonprofits when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, but I wasn’t really clear on the fact that they made up a sector of any kind. Now, that sector has become, according to Bloomberg, “the fastest-growing part of the U.S. economy…In the past decade, the number of nonprofit groups has grown by 25 percent to 1.6 million. They now account for 5.4 percent of gross domestic product and 10 percent of jobs.”
The neat part is that students are actually setting their sights on the sector as a place to work, a place to have a career. Some are opting to attend colleges that provide social good programs or degrees in philanthropy (like the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy) so they will be prepared for this path. This is a pretty new thing – seeking to study nonprofit management or philanthropy in order to run an organization or be a fundraiser. That is not something kids did when I was in college. But this is a very positive change and a great way to channel youthful energy.
But I’m not just talking about Millennials. I’m also talking about Boomers, who are seeking end-of-career jobs that help them use the many skills they developed throughout their lives. Whether it’s because they simply don’t want to stop working or their retirement accounts took a bit of a hit, some Boomers are opting to stay employed, but working in a different setting. They are devoting what could be time off to time driving nonprofits in a positive direction.
Of course, there are Generation Xers like me in the middle of all of this, but you get the point. The work force is a cool place because of all the many different people who are commiting their skills to the collective good.
My father has always enjoyed what he called “multi-generational events,” where young kids, adults and seniors were able to connect and learn from each other. In many ways, today’s workforce has become one of these events. Sure, this can sometimes make things hard, when we don’t understand each others’ language or perspective. But it’s the process of learning, that search for understanding that helps us all grow, helps us all be smarter and better in the end.
So celebrate the diversity of your workplace. And if you seem to be the odd ball out, looking around and seeing everyone of the same age or category as you, make a point to change it up a bit. Find some people to join your team who can bring in different knowledge, alternate views, wisdom in some new form. The combination will make your nonprofit better and stronger.