Watching the Rise of Millennial Organizations

One alternative forecast for millennials is that they might decide to form their own associations around their issues, the leadership opportunities they are ready to hold, and the technology-empowered approaches that extend their reach and impact.

This is a decisive question for associations to answer:  Will traditional organizations adapt ad accommodate the interests and preferences of millennials as they become a dominant demographic group, or will this generational renewal need the rise of new organizations proving new ways to be effective in the future?

The March for Science announced plans this month to incorporate as a nonprofit organization. The founders appear to be at a millennial stage of their careers. Yet the success of the march was assured once many well established scientific societies lent their support. This long list of partners attests to this continued support.

You see a similar phenomenon with the Women’s March, another movement-based initiative now searching for an executive director and organizing a major conference this month. When the streets of cities filled last January it was with millennial women linking arms with their boomer older sisters. 

Look closely at traditional associations and you can spot evidence that as millennials fill the ranks of association staffs and volunteers they are applying their impatience for bureaucracy and their proficiency with technology to updating systems and processes. 

One of the sticking points in this generational renewal I've experienced is whether scaling up operations with social media and apps will undermines essential relationships. For example, I talked with many fundraising professionals who doubted that new approaches to philanthropy could outperform relationship-based major gifts fundraising. Yet we can point to many examples where volume did indeed generate significant dollars—although the elders are right to question and insist on the importance of moving these donors from transactional giving into sustaining relationships.

Or take my experience with a long-standing national organization working to organize local communities for social justice. For too many years the old lions insisted we stick to relationship building rather than adopting some of the flashier techniques other organizations were using to garner public attention. Relationships give us the integrity to speak on our issues, but we have gained much as the millennial organizers who came on board began experimenting with technology tools to better communicate and organize our efforts.

The best future will be one where we hold fast to important principles that define human interactions, while moving as fast as younger minds and hands can carry us into deploying new capabilities. This doesn’t have to happen through the rise of new organizations, but it might take a few provocative successes to wake older leaders up to the possibilities.