So what happens when you harness Gen X and Y’s idealistic and highly entrepreneurial nature, love of technology, and hunger for feedback and use it to bring resources to people in need? Quite simply, you get the hottest nonprofit on the planet.
Kiva connects individual lenders to developing-world entrepreneurs and in the process gives people access to capital rather than a handout. Their donors are closely connected to their mission because they are helping one individual lift themselves out of poverty. 90% of their lenders recirculate their loans, once they are paid back so the amount of funds available keeps growing and growing. Kiva is so popular that after a recent string of great publicity about the organization, they ran out of funding opportunities and stopped taking donations for a short period of time. They also have to consistantly limit how much each individual can lend so that more people have a chance to participate. How often do you hear about nonprofits capping donations?
At the same time that Kiva has been growing beyond anyone but its founders wildest expectations, there has been a lot of concern in the social sector that there is this insurmountable leadership gap that threatens to ruin the entire nonprofit sector that the idealistic baby boomers so carefully created. Who will be the next nonprofit executive director that works 80-hour weeks and spends 75 of those 80 hours looking for funding to keep the organization afloat? Who will step up to be the Chief Operating Officer that lays off half of the staff when the government grant dries up? Who will be the next Development Director to send the annual appeal letter to 1,000 people who might be interested in supporting your organization because they once supported the World Wildlife Fund? Anyone? Anyone?
I don’t think the issue is “are there enough young people to take over the reins at nonprofits?” There are enough young people that care about the problems and great opportunities in our communities but they are off starting organizations like Kiva, First Step Initiative, and Donors Choose, instead of paying their dues at the Anytown Community Development Center or the National Association for People that Care about the Environment.
The new question is “what are established nonprofits going to do to make themselves more attractive to this demographic?” Remember when Silicon Valley start-ups were tripping over themselves to have the most relaxed and fun office environment so that they could recruit scarce talent? “We have a foosball table in our conference room! Well we let all of our employees bring their dog to work and we will bring in a specially trained dog masseuse in every Friday to keep our staff happy.” I’m not suggesting the nonprofit sector go that far (massages for staff isn’t such a bad idea though), but it is time for the nonprofit sector to start thinking about what it will take to recruit and retain Gen X and Y. Title and salary are not enough to motivate these generations. It is more about how flexible the office environment is, what new skills sets can someone learn in your organization, and what is the impact on the community. Once the nonprofit sector figures that out, maybe we’ll all have to limit how much an individual can donate to us.