Many charities are not raising up millennial leaders internally. This is a disturbing trend that will affect the livelihood of organizations, first leading to a loss of relevancy as the organization fails to speak the language of younger generations, then a loss of bright young talent who don't relate to the company, and finally a loss of donors who see a lack of a succession plan. It's ugly folks--heed this advice!
In this piece, I will highlight ways to determine if millennial leaders are being raised up if you're working with a charity in a leadership role. If you are a valued volunteer, committee member, part of a board of directors, or an executive in a charity, you would do well to assess your organization.
First, consider that if venture capitalist investment in start-ups that will change the world trend heavily toward investment in millennial leaders, there must be a reason. The reason is that they have the energy for massive production, a lack of institutional legacy thinking that can hamper innovation, are wonderfully agile in their technical abilities, and have many years ahead of them to lead into the future.
Next, check out McKinsey's latest report on the social sector. This rare treat spotlights one massive concern for charities--the lack of leadership development. So, with both smart money and research, not to mention organizational growth fundamentals not withstanding, I think we can all agree, investment in millennials in the charity is essential.
Most charities will tell you they are doing this and can even point to a success case or two. However, what appears to be millennial empowerment can be a facade for a culture that does not allow for the kinds of investment, risk, mistakes, and growth that real leadership development requires.
Here are the questions you should be asking charity leaders:
- How many millennials are in management, director, and executive positions? You want to see a minimum of 30% in each category for a healthy balance between young and old (too young has its pitfalls too, a subject for another article).
- Are there millennials on the Board of Directors? Sound far fetched? It's not--consider that nearly every 501(c)(3) education institution of higher learning includes recent graduates on their Board.
- How are millennials being trained and invested in? Ask for real examples of training events, coaching arrangements, and dollars spent.
- What major strategic projects are millennials leading? Ask tough questions to discern if they are really able to guide the project direction versus taking orders from higher ups.
- How many staff are under millennial management? It's vital that millennials are given experience with hiring/firing and evaluations with guidance from Human Resources.
- What tools are in place to let "share happy" millennials extend the reach of the brand? How effective are those channels in terms of shares and interactions?
- Finally, ask the leaders how they are creating space to routinely listen to their youngest, freshest employees. You want to see channels that deliver their input at least quarterly, if not on an ongoing basis. This can be done through round table discussions, advisory teams, or even virtual collaboration.
Personally, I have benefitted from incredible leaders who exemplify millennial investment. For example, the CEO of Penske Logistics, Vince Hartnett, once tapped me to develop an ambitious new leadership development event, leaving many of the details including format, location, selecting a keynote speaker, not to mention small details, up to me to plan and execute. At the same time, his executive team made time to meet with and coach me. They sent me to relevant conferences for training to build up my skill set in planning large international events. In conclusion, the event series ended up being a huge success that pushed the envelop on event return on investment data collection and results, and continued on for many years.
My time at Penske, among others, helps me to have a lens through which to look at charities, and sadly the same kind of development is rare to see. Charities believe they are running too fast or too lean to develop millennial leaders properly, or they are blind to their inability to empower others. However, this kind of thinking is a self-satisfying myth and a mistake that must be decisively addressed and reversed for the charity to thrive in the future.