The future of Jewish nonprofits: Let the Millenials drive

The future of Jewish nonprofits: Let the Millenials drive

In 2007, a friend reached out to me for help. Her uncle was a long-term resident at the Reuth Medical Center in Tel Aviv, and she requested that I join her on the American Friends of Reuth’s Young Leadership board to raise awareness for the facility. After visiting the medical center, I quickly fell in love with Reuth, and I have been championing their young leadership programming ever since.

As a social worker, I’ve been exposed to many worthwhile nonprofit organizations. From what I’ve seen, all of these organizations have three things in common: they work tirelessly to make a difference, they always need more money (to both maintain their ongoing activities and expand their reach), and they are most successful when volunteerism is strong within the organization.

Reflecting on the latter two items, it is clear to me that the key to nonprofit success is engaging younger donors and volunteers. Gone are the days when an organization can survive on “old money” alone.

I would even take it one step further, to say that the very future of social services hinges on the involvement of “Generation Y,” young men and women born between 1980-2000, also known as “Millennials.” It’s not just because this generation will lead the voluntary sector one day. This is about more than pragmatism.  

Millennials will soon wield more power than any previous generation because they are the most passionate and idealistic generation to ever grace the planet. As such, when fueled by values or a cause they believe in, they are virtually unstoppable. Therefore, engaging Millennials is about much more than raising money. It’s about convincing young, talented, and energetic individuals that your cause is their cause, too.

While young volunteers will snub the traditional fundraising appeals executed via direct mail and cold calls, they are always looking for inspiration. And once inspired, they are happy to give everything they’ve got to their new cause — their creativity, time, networking abilities, social media savvy and at times, even their money. They take ownership and become emotionally invested very quickly.

You see, you can lead a Millennial to water, but he will only “drink” if you allow him to follow through on his own terms.

Millennials usually turn to social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs to spread

the word about their favorite charities. They often raise funds for the causes they are passionate about by running marathons or similar events wherein they serve as the cheerleaders and others are encouraged to give. They throw parties that raise awareness and cold hard cash, but never stale fundraisers.

What drew me to Reuth was the fact that the organization, which is now celebrating its 75th anniversary, has always been powered by idealistic young volunteers. From the very beginning, a group of young women saw a gap that needed filling and stepped up to answer that call. Many years later, our Young Leadership Division keeps that flame of commitment, passion, and creativity burning.

For example, last Passover, we chaired a unique and successful fundraiser for a diverse international crowd. We arranged a “silent disco” on the roof of the Reuth Medical Center for more than 180 young adults from seven different countries. No patients were disturbed because party attendees listened to music on headphones, and all of the attendees genuinely enjoyed the experience and latched onto their new cause as they danced to the music. The key to our success was that the attendees were able to see the facility — the place where their money was going — firsthand.

It is this type of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that Millennials can bring to the table. They know the type of events that would appeal to them

and inspire them to give of themselves. Therefore, it only makes sense that they should be the ones organizing and running these events.

The formula is simple: after you convince the young, talented and energetic individuals that your cause is, in fact, their own, give them the keys and let them drive.

If nonprofit organizations remain hesitant to hand over the reins to Gen Y, they may very well be jeopardizing their longevity. As such, we must do everything in our power to help Jewish charities appreciate the value of big hearts, huge talent and long-term commitment over large, one-time endowments.

The future of Jewish philanthropy depends upon it.

(Marleen Litt is a social worker and chair of the American Friends of Reuth’s Young Leadership Division.)