This article is reprinted from Young Nonprofit Professionals Network blog,  February 17.

Accountability, millennials, and data: Minnesota Compass Annual Meeting review

by Kyle Bozentko for Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Minnesota Compass Annual Meeting with nearly two-hundred regional data-lovers. The theme of the meeting was "Minnesota Next: Millennials, Leadership, and the Information Economy.”

To provide a frame of reference for the event and demonstrate the importance of this cohort to our state’s future, MN Compass Project Manager Craig Helmstetter, pointed out a couple of noteworthy facts regarding Millennials in Minnesota:

  • At 28%, Millennials currently constitute the largest percentage of the state's population (Boomers came in a close second at 25%).
  • Millennials maintain a high rate ("above average" was the exact phrase) of civic engagement through activities such as voting and volunteering - ranking 2nd in voting and 6th in volunteering compared to peers from other states.

Despite this, the actual makeup of the audience highlighted some tensions regarding Millennials, the workplace, civic engagement, and leadership – themes present in several recent YNPN posts and events. While the focus of the Annual Meeting was squarely on Millennials, there were relatively few of us in attendance - just 15% of the audience.

This situation has two significant layers. On one hand, many working people in this age group simply don't have the authority to say "I am going to take three hours out of the middle of a Tuesday to attend this event.” On the other, they are busy attending school, being involved with other efforts, or taking care of personal/family obligations and didn’t have the privilege to attend.

Trista Harris, President of the Minnesota Council of Foundations, recognized this tension as an opportunity for senior level staff and supervisors to promote leadership among younger employees. She pointed out in many cases, it is up to organizational leadership to make the decisions (by selecting attendees) that encourage participation among younger employees. Extending these opportunities beyond senior staff, she added, fosters leadership, motivates growth, and cultivates networks of leaders who are active and prepared to step into leadership roles as they emerge.

Harris also pointed out that a one-size-fits-all concept of leadership, engagement and professional development forces many Millennials out of the running for valuable development and advancement opportunities when those activities require additional commitments beyond the job description. Our lunch conversation with some wonderful folks from 3M, 3MGives, and Ecolab highlighted how some of these challenges impact volunteer recruitment and engagement among younger employees. We discussed how often, even if people truly want to participate in an event or volunteer opportunity, the responsibilities of working digitally well beyond the 9-5 workday will not allow enough time to commit. This points to another omnipresent challenge – the energy we all wish we could devote to causes we are passionate about, or even to our friends and family, becomes displaced on unrelenting work-related activities and obligations (or the stress of finding/securing stable work opportunities, studying, etc.,).

Inspired by this theme (and from Trista Harris' use of the "Old Economy Steve" meme while presenting), I created my first meme above to reflect how the never-ending work day of the “new economy” extends beyond the workplace to inhibit opportunities to become and remain engaged.

It is extremely important to point out this phenomenon affects all of us, not just Millennials. Too much energy going into work saps opportunities to do the things we love and young professionals aren’t the only ones with never-ending work responsibilities and a million other important obligations and relationships.

On the other hand, the responsibility for showing up and being accountable when we do have the opportunity lies squarely on our own shoulders. As Matt Hill with the Minnesota Historical Society pointed out via Twitter when the event wrapped up - "Unless we start showing up, others are going to speak for us."

This sentiment echoes the call-out Jennifer Ford Reedy, President of the Bush Foundation, made to attendees regarding ownership and responsibility for telling the positive stories data makes possible. Ford Reedy posited the onus rests on nonprofits and community leaders to "show up" and tell a positive story about where we are making progress and where we are seeing positive trends in our efforts, because the stories are out there and the data is there to back them up.

Similarly, it remains the responsibility of Millennials to show up, be accountable, and tell our own positive stories before someone else speaks for us. For me, the most significant barrier is time management – I easily miss a dozen events a month because of a hectic work travel schedule, but am committed to finding ways to become more involved and being a stronger collaborative partner.

What tactics and strategies do you use to navigate these challenges and find meaningful ways to become/remain involved without burning out completely?


Kyle Bezentko is Executive Director at the Jefferson Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization with no agenda except a belief that ordinary citizens will make wise and fair decisions when given the opportunity.