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  Engaging Our Youngest Adults Potpourri

Canadian FundRaiserGeneration XMY NICHOLS’ WORTH
Engaging Our Youngest Adults
Judith E. Nichols, Ph.D., CFRE

It’s the futurist’s first rule: You can’t understand the future without demographics. The composition of a society – whether its citizens are old or young, prosperous or declining, rural or urban – shapes every aspect of civic life, from politics, economics, and culture to the kinds of products, services, and businesses that are likely to succeed or fail. Demographics isn’t destiny, but it’s close cautions author Andrew Zolli, in “Demographics: The Population Hourglass”, Fast Company magazine, March 2006.

Because most of us see the world from our own age perspective, many development officers are not aware that younger adults make up a significant proportion of the developed world’s population:

  • If you’re 30, you’re older than 42 percent of Americans, including those 72 million Americans born between 1977 and 1994 who are passing out of their teens. In fact, more than 20 percent of this cohort has reached 21 years of age.

  • The under-30 cohort represents about 22% of the European population. There are approximately 50 million people in Europe between ages 15 and 24; 30 million more are between 25 and 29.

  • Twenty-five percent of Canada’s population of 32,270 is under 30. Approximately 20 percent have reached 21 years of age.

In Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (Vintage Books 2000) authors Neil Howe and William Strauss note that “As a group, Millenials (also called Generation Y or Net) are unlike any other youth generation in living memory. They are more numerous, more affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse.” The "civic" children of boomers, holds many of the values of an earlier generation: a sense of civic duty, a focus on achievement, and a strong moral compass. Like their grandparents, they prize loyalty,

Similar values are found in young adults throughout the world. Writing in the March 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review, William McEwen and co-authors note in “Inside the Mind of the Chinese Consumer” that “China’s Generation Y has increasing drive, hopes, and demands; it is a highly literate and information-savvy group that refuses to be taken for granted. These young adults are open to Western ideas and products, yet still proudly supportive of their own culture.”

Indeed, Generation Y (and the youngest of Generation X) has more in common with their peers throughout the world than with their parent’s generation as noted in the Futurist’s May-June 2005 issue:

  • The under-20 cohort is remaining in school longer and taking longer to enter the workforce than before.
  • Generation X is starting new businesses at an unprecedented rate.
  • The younger millennial generation is proving to be even more business-oriented, caring for little but the bottom line.
  • Many in generation X are economically conservative.
While it may be too early to tell all the events in their lives that will shape them, it is likely that technology and a world view will play important roles. Our youngest adults are growing up in a world without boundaries and are likely to extend their philanthropy well past their own countries. Nick Sparks, a 17-year old black student who temporarily passed as white for an FX cable TV show, “Black White” does not buy into notions of outside cultural gaps between the races. “In our generation, we don’t see race,” he said. “I was treated about the same when I was black and white”. “Confronting America’s Racial Divide, in Blackface and White”, Felicia R. Lee, New York Times, February 16, 2006.

For many young adults, it's not financial security but living in freedom that most defines their hopes for the future. It shows what a huge impact September 11th of 2001 has had on our lives and our young peoples' lives. Twenty-three percent of American 18- to 22-year-olds cite living in freedom as the most important characteristic of the American dream. While it's not clear whether these young people will hold onto this opinion as they move into their adult lives with families to care for, as of right now financial security is far from the top of their minds. Only 5 percent of 18-to 22-year-olds surveyed cited it, in fact. Demographics Alert, October 12, 2004

Nearly half of twentysomethings receive financial support from their parents or family. Our youngest adults are also being called “twixters” – those between the late teens and the late 20’s who dip in and out of school, jobs and relationships, sometimes ending back up at home.  It is taking much longer to make the transition to adulthood than it did a few decades ago – longer than at any time in history. For today’s young people, adulthood no longer begins where adolescence ends. The traditional definition of adulthood has changed from getting married and having children to finishing school, establishing an independent household, and holding a job. “Growing Up Is Harder to Do”, Frank N. Furstenberg, Jr. et al., Contexts, American Sociological Association, (Summer 2004).

Studying “emerging adulthood” in November 2004, Time magazine polled Americans 18-29 asking them:  “What’s the main reason that you do not consider yourself an adult?”
  • Just enjoying the way life is       35%
  • Not financially independent yet 33%
  • Not out of school                          13%
  • Not sure                                         19%

History and culture’s defining moments – in the United States, Columbine, 9/11, the impeachment of President Clinton, the Dot Bust – have helped forge a sensibility that will last a lifetime in shaping expectations and entitlement, in determining what one will give to and take from society, work, one’ community, etc. This is the most unpredictable, advertising-saturated and marketing-skeptical group of adults the world has ever seen.

This younger generation is entrepreneurial; a strong 70 percent want to own their own business sometime during their lives. A 2003 Junior Achievement poll (http://www.ja.org/files/polls/Kids_Careers_2003.pdf) reported that nearly 13 percent of teens selected "business person" as their ideal job, twice the number who selected "doctor" (6.5 percent) and "computer field" (4.9 percent). They're optimistic, expecting to reach their life goals. However, they are also realistic and conservative, not expecting to achieve the high income figures of the preceding generation. While they seem to be less materialistic, nearly three quarters of the respondents believe that a four-year college degree or a graduate degree is essential to obtain their ideal career goals.

Reflecting a trend in the current workforce, the teenagers chose family and fun over money in level of importance to them. Nearly 65 percent voted for less money and more time for family and fun over more money with an investment of more time. This data is consistent with other research where 48 percent of today's workers made the same choice. Money is no longer the primary motivator. This trend will alter methods employers use to attract, encourage, and hold top talent.

Three Impressions of Gen-Net Personality:

  1. Acceptance of Diversity
  2. On the Internet, nobody knows whether you are black, white, short, tall, attractive or ugly. Children often take on alternative personalities while surfing the Net. If an N-Gener is talking to someone using the icon of a dog, it doesn't matter that it's a dog - what's important is what the dog has to say. Anti-dog prejudices are about as prevalent as anti-black prejudices - that is, virtually non-existent. In Swedish Ungdom Mot Rasism means Youth Against Racism and the organization's Web site lets them take their message global.
  3. A Curious Generation
  4. Childhood is all about exploration, discovery and investigation. However, it is this new shift in control from the broadcast world to the interactive world that elicits intensely heightened curiosity. Basically, there is now a new world to explore, and as this new world matures it will beckon N-Gen with more allure. The newsletter Simply Science for Kids is one site that nurtures curiosity.
  5. Assertiveness and Self Reliance
  6. Access to the media enables N-Gen to assert itself much more than any other generation. It is the confidence to stick up for themselves that is giving N-Gen the power to make a difference. Some home pages are the equivalent of 1960's petitions, and they are made by N-Geners who are asserting themselves to a new level. See the Rainforest page made by one N-Gener as an example.
While currently Generations X and Net donate less than the older groups – an average of $791 per year – and 52 percent gave nothing, 56 percent plan to increase their donations in the next five years.
  • 54 percent say they will leave money to charity in their wills (compared to 40% of boomers and 26% of older Americans).
  • More of their dollars – 41% -- go to advocacy and political campaigns.

“Boomers! Navigating the Generational Divide in Fundraising and Advocacy”, DonorTrends Project, 2005
Marketers – and this includes fundraisers -- need to be smarter, and more focused about reaching 21-year-olds. According to Michael Nilsen, public affairs director of the Assocition of Fundraising Professionals quoted in “Having A Blast, for a Good Cause”, Maggie Master, New York Times, March 19, 2006 “There’s an innovativeness there that goes beyond the baby boomer generation. They want to get involved with the more regular mainstream charities but by doing something outside of the mainstream rather than just sending their checks.”

In American Demographics magazine, September 2003 issue.  In “To Be About To Be”, author Michel J. Weiss notes that:

  • Whereas young boomers challenged authority, current 21-year olds aren’t itching for upheaval.
  • Whereas young Boomers rebelled against their parents, today’s Yers want to connect with theirs. (60% of college students plan to move back home after graduation).
  • No strong brand attachments: they believe that’s in today is gone tomorrow.
  • Think of today’s 21-year-olds as the always-on generation. Using wireless speaks to them.
  • This group wants products customized to suit its own tastes and whims.

Are you ignoring your younger adult prospects? Savvy not-for-profits are focusing on this group now!

Canadian FundRaiser
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