On Friday, I Had Intergenerational Dialogue For Breakfast

On Friday, I Had Intergenerational Dialogue For Breakfast

This is a guest post from Elisa Ortiz from Smart Growth America.  She blogs at www.elisamortiz.wordpress.com.

I headed to the YNPN DC 2010 conference early on Friday morning to learn and network with other nonprofit professionals. I also joined the social media team at the conference and live-tweeted the conference along with several other fabulous YNPs. In the next couple of days I’ll be sharing some of my notes and impressions from the meeting. If you want to check out the minute by minute commentary from Friday, check out the Twitter stream at #YNPNdc10.

The kick off session was an intergenerational dialogue breakfast facilitated by Rosetta Thurman and Alan Abramson. Below are some of my notes from the session.

Brad Sciber from National Geographic, who was a founding board member of YNPN DC, introduced the session and talked about how he had to teach his parents about nonprofits when he decided to join the sector. He explained that academia wasn’t a fit, business for business sake didn’t move him and he didn’t want to be a government worker; he wanted to do something that mattered and make the world a better place.

Brad now has a young son who has the option to do something that matters throughout his life; but how is Brad supposed to explain that to him? Here’s how he going to do it: by sharing the story “Stone Soup.” The synopsis: Some strangers come to town but no one in town wants to share the food with the strangers. So, the strangers decide to start a pot of soup boiling in the middle of town with 3 stones and they talk up how good it will be. They note that the soup would be better with an onion, but that even without it the soup will still be good. After hearing that, someone contributes an onion to the soup – after all, an onion isn’t a big deal. The strangers then say that the soup would be so much better with a carrot, so someone contributes a carrot. This continues on until eventually they have a delicious soup that everyone in the town has contributed to and can share. This is a great metaphor for the nonprofit sector: we all put in our little bit to make the ‘soup’ wonderful; and if we didn’t have that gathering pot of soup we’d all just be a bunch of people with random veggies.

This is how YNPN DC has grown in the past 6 years: more and more people have contributed and now there are many more events, more opportunities for professional development, far more members, and a stronger voice.

Rosetta kicked off the session by sharing some statistics and loose definitions of the various generations represented in the workplace, including the silent generation (born 1925-1945), baby boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (65 – 79), Gen Y (80-2000). (For more on the stats and reports that detail a generational shift in nonprofits, check out Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out and YNPN’s report on leadership development and career progression in the nonprofit sector, Stepping Up or Stepping Out [PDF].)
She then asked some questions of the group that we responded to at our individual tables.

  • What do you wish people knew about your generation?
  • From baby boomers – we have a sense that government can be a positive force and it has shaped our lives; the power of popular movements and public service to do good is hugely important; a lot of us had a sense of working hard, paying dues, and working your way up in the workplace that we were taught from an early age; some key cultural touchstones: men born after 1954 knew (and still know) their draft numbers by heart and in the workplace most people smoked all day everyday – those are thing that young people have never experienced.
  • From Gen X – AIDS was a huge economic and health impact on our lives; we feel like Gen Y doesn’t recognize the need to pay their dues; we as Gen X-ers are more willing to pay our dues and we empathize with the baby boomers in that respect
  • From Gen Y – even though the media wants to label the newest crop of college graduates the ‘lost’ generation due to a poor economy and a lack of jobs that keep us living at home, Gen Y-ers are actually very entrepreneurial, we are starting our own businesses and making things happen; we are more willing to take risks, but in a way that can allow great change to happen and new social norms to be created
  • How do we move the ‘next’ generation of leaders into the ‘now’ generation of leaders? What can we do on the individual, organization and regional (DC metro) level?
  • Individually
    • Start with trust in one another instead of waiting to earn that trust
    • Especially for Gen Y-ers: let your boss know that you will stay at an organization if you are cultivated and appreciated
    • Gen X can seek out and help develop younger leaders
    • Go to your supervisor and ask them what they know; this credits them for their knowledge and you also get professionally development
  • Organizationally
    • Be more transparent on salaries, benefits, etc. so that we understand where each other are coming from re: money and that pressure
    • Organizations should keep a list of professional development opportunities or maintain connections with other organizations that do have that information
    • Organizations should start and maintain a policy of supporting professional development in all employees
    • Sessions conducted by employees for other employees on different knowledge areas
  • Regionally
    • External mentoring with other organizations
    • Strengthen the nonprofit community in DC by participating in groups like YNPN

The session was a great chance for each of us to learn from other generations and start (or continue) a dialog that needs to happen in our workplaces, schools and homes. The workplace is ever changing and if we’re going to be successful within it, we need to be flexible and work together whether we’re moving up or moving out.

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