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    Posted April 2, 2014 by
    New York, New York
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    Reflections: Is 40 the New 80? Is 20 the New 2?

    Over the past weeks, I have been involved in a great many discussions, debates and disagreements about the future of the social purpose (non-profit/NGO) sector. These topics have touched upon varying topics such as the professionalism of staff, innovation, volunteering around the world, donors not giving to overhead, ageism against those over 40 as well those under 40, and the importance of relationships versus data, data, data.

    I am going to start a series called “Reflections” and will seek to write about these issues – and hopefully provide some solutions or at least spur a discussion in order new develop new ways of thinking and practice. As always, my focus is to speak about issues that are relevant to those inside and outside of the sector and who want to help improve the 21st Century. Clearly, there is a lot of fodder and hopefully my 20 years of experience in the industry will serve me well as I try to build bridges.

    Today, I am going to write about ageism as this week two more of my colleagues have decided that enough is enough and they are striking out into new endeavors that have to do nothing with philanthropy. Unfortunately, as much as Millennials, data companies (you know who you are) and social media experts don’t really seem to mind, this is a serious problem. As I stated in my call to action to Millennials in my article entitled, “Millennials, You Have My Attention: Now Help Innovate for Social Purpose”, their input in the social purpose sector is critical, but it must be done in partnership with those who have experience (and relationships). A few weeks ago the largest gift ever donated in a tweet was given through Twitter – that was $11,000. This still pales in comparison to the $100,000, $500,000, $1 million or $100 million gifts that are typically negotiated the good old fashioned way – by developing a relationship and making an ask, properly structured, at the right time. Usually, seasoned and experienced professionals are negotiating these types of gifts, but granted there are exceptions.

    I have my own Millennial at home and I know every generation goes through its “war” between the young – who can be impatient and think the world is theirs for the taking – and those of us who are older, who know we don’t know everything but can also be threatened by new ideas, innovation, breaking the paradigm, social media, etc.
    The fact of the matter is over 40 can’t be considered “too old”. In this dynamic world, 80 is not old and I know a few 80 year olds who can run circles around most 20 year olds with their mental horsepower, tenacity, persistence and vision. Dead is old. By the same token, 20-somethings can’t be considered in a condescending manner “kids” or resented.

    In the world we have the following, according to the UN Millennium Goals:
    • 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty, which means they are living on less than $1.25 per day.
    • 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) lack basic reading and writing skills. 61% of them are girls and young women.
    • Violence against women continues to undermine efforts to reach all goals.
    • Children born into poverty are almost twice as likely to die before the age of five as those from wealthier families.
    • More people than ever are living with HIV due to fewer AIDS-related deaths, with 2.5 million people being newly infected each year.
    • Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by more than 46% since 1990.
    • 77% of people in developed countries are internet users, compared with only 31% of people in developing countries.

    I think the world has changed considerably and we are diving deep into an age of great information, technology and scientific breakthroughs. This hyper-speed tends to favor the Millennials with “less data in their hard-drives” than GenXer’s and Boomers – a phrase I learned recently from a non-profit professional in his 70s. That being said, GenXer’s and Boomers, in general, need to stop bemoaning and resenting the fact that Millennials have not demanded a seat at the table and have, essentially, created their own modes of working. This is an opportunity for us to reinvent ourselves, learn, grow and reach out to them to ask for their input on issues we have been working on during the course of our lifetimes. They won’t bite. Here is a thought – what if you asked a Millennial to join your board in exchange for their technical expertise or to help your marketing efforts? I ask my daughter for advice and help all of the time. She returns the favor because she knows I trust her thinking – even if we don’t always agree. We do not need to throw away our life’s work and runaway with the circus because we can’t compete. We need to reinvent right along with Millennials in a new environment so we can compete and partner.

    And social purpose organizations, you have the greatest of all responsibilities. You need to stop believing that social media and the internet alone will be the salvation for what may be ailing you. If you are floundering, more than likely, it has nothing to do with social media. You need to invest in people (young and old). It’s not good enough to have a mission to help those in need and then turn your back on older workers - hiring just the 20-somethings because you are believing the hype about how social media will impact the bottom line. Social media may impact the bottom line, but only if it is done in a comprehensive and strategic manner that includes various channels of communication with donors. Again, it has only been a few weeks since that $11,000 tweet. You still can’t get $1 million that way, but who knows...perhaps Sir Richard Branson will prove me wrong.

    Bottom line, we need to build a bridge. Millennials, feel free to reach out to me @LNSpencer for a dialogue and, my fellow GenXers and Boomers, I am sure you know how to reach me the old fashioned way, but you are more than welcome to tweet me as well.

    Posted: April 2, 2014

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    © 2014 Linda N. Spencer and “Living For Purpose™” all rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda N. Spencer and “Living For Purpose™” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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