Nonprofit Boards Prepare – The Millennial Workforce Is Coming!!

Nonprofit Boards Prepare – The Millennial Workforce Is Coming!!

By: Eugene Fram

In January, I presented a well-viewed post on the potential impact on the nonprofit board if a new CEO is a millennial – born roughly between 1980 and 2000. ( This current post broadens the discussion. Unlike for-profit directors, nonprofit directors are more likely to have contact with millennial staff personnel on task forces and on special projects. (The staff organizationally can be only several levels below the board in nonprofits.)

There is no question that the nonprofit workforce mirrors or exceeds the national workforce in percentages of millennials — expected to be 50% in 2020 and 75% in 2025. Their values center on finding meaningful work, being respected/praised for their accomplishments and having a flexible work environment. Although these working requirements and values, at first, will puzzle older board cohorts, millennials’ dedication to the mission will be outstanding. But nonprofit directors and the public will have to adjust their views because a new generation’s working styles will require changes.

Work-Life Balance: Millennial managers and staffs are very willing to work hard at their jobs, but they also highly value a work-life balance. On the other hand they do not have a rigid demarcation between work and personal life; working from home, libraries and coffee houses can be seen as desirable places to be productive, locations were never considered desirable by the past generations. Nonprofit directors, more than their for-profit counterparts, need to be in contact with staff members for various professional reasons such as board committee service. But not always having staff available in the workplace from 9am to 5pm initially will present some communications challenges.

In addition, those in the new generation will expect substantially more personal accommodations in instances involving their personal issues such as – scheduling adjustments for family responsibilities and more informal interpersonal relationships. Making these adjustments will require the board to develop human resources policies, since nonprofits do not have of much “bench strength” to make these accommodations. Similarly, millennials like their employers to treat them like family members.

The Working Environment Will Change – Some of these changes may reduce nonprofit costs. Others have the potential of increasing costs. Although both may be controversial, they can enhance productivity. (

Flexible Work Spaces – For example, where a large part of the nonprofit’s staff is involved with outreach activities, there is no reason to dedicate fixed office space for them. For every five persons, two open spaces may be sufficient. In addition, if these people use laptops, typical of millennials, and if the nonprofit’s IT system is cloud based, the nonprofit will require less fixed based computer equipment. If carried to an extreme, even the CEO and CFO can use flexible space as long as there are sufficient conference rooms available for meetings and private discussions!

Food! – Free staff food in a nonprofit workplace supported by charitable dollars! Given nonprofits are supported by foundation grants and gifts, this effort sounds like an unnecessary extravagance. It is assumed that donors and other external stakeholders just wouldn’t understand. But if costs are weighted against benefits the move can be proven productive. For example, I know of an organization that has researched the costs of serving staff lunches daily. Benefits of having the staff together for another hour a day, discussing problems and generating team-building efforts, far outweighed the costs. * It also offers opportunities for staff to informally interact with senior managers.

Physical Facilities — These have importance to millennials, and I know that nonprofits can’t start reconfiguring the workspace to attract the most able millennial talent. But some thought should be given to the ambiance. A casual attire workplace has already taken hold nationally. Both are progressive policies to meet the value systems of the millennial generation.

Relaxation Facilities – Since millennials are prone to work continuous hours to complete a project, consideration needs to be given to some space for relaxation. This may not be possible for nonprofits where the workplace is in an older crowded facility, but purchasing some second hand exercise equipment and games might be considered. This again may raise some questions in the minds of some stakeholders about whether or not the staff has a serious interest in the mission. It will be up to management, and possibly board directors to make the case for the place of this equipment.

Yes, the millennials are coming! The research shows that their values relate well to missions of many nonprofit organizations. To interest the best and the brightest, nonprofit workplaces, as experienced by older generations, will need to change in strange ways!

* Details: Staff in the organization totaled about 25 professionals. Each weekday, the administrative assistant took individual lunch orders, for a different restaurant each day, from staff persons staying for lunch. The cost conscious CEO reported that the total annual cost was about what he would have paid for a half-time entry level professional.

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