You don’t need to have spending power to make an impact, and young people today know this. Those who make up Generation Z (Gen Z), born between 1996 and 2010, are more involved with activism and addressing issues in their community, like gun violence and bullying, than any previous generation.
They’re more than 27 percent of the global population and will soon hold positions of economic and political power. Building a strategy that incorporates Gen Z into the foundation of your nonprofit can help you stay relevant while elevating the next generation of leaders through skill-building and community involvement.
Questions around youth engagement aren’t as much about why as they are about how. While it may seem like social media is always the best way to communicate with younger generations, schools and community centers are also good options. They’re trusted places where young people and their families access resources and opportunities, and your organization could be one of those. Below, we’ll show you some of the most effective ways you can bring Generation Z into the fold.
1. Go Beyond the Traditional Volunteer Experience
Up to 50 percent of teens today are looking for volunteer opportunities. Sure, there’s never a shortage of work to be done at a nonprofit, but the key to really reach this group is adding value beyond the traditional volunteer experience.
Gen Z is passionate about community issues, but they’re also in the market to start building their resume. Find work for them to do that benefits your organization, but also teaches or exposes them to something new. Find ways to compensate them for their time, whether through course credit, money, or another medium beyond lukewarm pizza.
One way you could provide this value is with a jobs or workforce development program. Rose Community Development Corporation (CDC) built a program called Lents Youth Initiative, which acts as a vehicle for largely underserved youth to work on community improvement projects and receive leadership and environmental justice training, along with career development, while being paid for their time.
2. Build Gen Z Mentorship Programs
Building personal connections may be the single most critical element to retaining young people at your organization. These relationships start with informal, one-on-one mentoring between office staff and a young person, but it doesn’t end there.
Gen Z wants to be treated as equals, both among their peers and cross-generationally. So, if you want to engage them successfully, prioritize opportunities where they can learn and work together.
For example, you can have them shadow your employees during important meetings to showcase how business operations work at your nonprofit. Get them involved in work like this that has real value and meaning to your organization, and, along the way, be open to learning from their perspective as well.
The Audubon Society of Portland has formalized a mentorship and apprentice program called TALON. It stands for Teach, Advocate, Lead, Observe, and Nurture, and is geared towards equipping youth of color with the necessary skills needed to enter a career in environmental education, community science, wildlife rehabilitation, communications, or trail restoration. Youth are paid and work together over the course of ten weeks in a cohort setting, which provides a base of peer support and community that’s often hard to find.
3. Put Gen Z on Your Board
Bring a fresh perspective and direct insight into challenges and concerns facing the next generation of leaders, as well as a deeper level of transparency, by inviting young people to the governance table. Many states limit youth involvement on boards to organizations focused on education, youth development, or delinquency prevention, so be sure to check your state regulations.
If you live in a state that does restrict board members to being over the age of 18, you can start a separate Youth Advisory Council or create advisor positions that still attend all of the board meetings and have access to org financials.
At Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (GSEP), young women are recruited or self-nominated to serve as a Girl Advisor to the board for one-year terms. They’re screened, interviewed, and voted on by the board development committee before they are assigned a Board mentor, invited to attend all board meetings, and given access to the organization’s backend information.
“Having Girl Advisors at a governance table is revolutionary because the girls are learning first-hand, and in real time, how decisions are made to guide a company.”
Giving young people access to pivotal information and decision-making abilities can empower them and it equips your nonprofit with fresh, relevant perspectives.
Generation Z may be the most philanthropic and cause-driven yet, but in order to build them into and sustain their investment in your nonprofit, it has to be a two-way street of value added.