Generational Differences and Volunteering: A Millennial Perspective


As I entered the room and sat down for my first GED tutor training session, I noted that I was most likely the youngest person in the room.  My fellow volunteers went around, introducing themselves, and my prediction was confirmed.  I shared a table with a college grad, a recent empty nester, a young professional, and a retired school teacher.  I am a college student, and I spend almost all of my days surrounded by others their early 20s. I was grateful for this opportunity to interact with a group of individuals where every generation was represented.  As I later learned, for the first time in many years, all four generations are entering the work force- and volunteering- together.

You may have head of the Generation Theory. In scientific terms, a generation is an “identifiable group that shares birth years, age location, and significant events at critical development states” (Kupperschmidt, 2000). The four generational groups currently working and volunteering together are Traditionalists (born around 1925-1944), Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Generation X (1965-1984), and Millennials or Generation Y (1985-2004), although these age-ranges tend to vary depending on who you ask.  Generational theorists like to make sweeping statements about the personality characteristics of each generational group, and a hot topic among volunteer managers recently has been how these generations differ as volunteers. For example:

Traditionalists: They are committed, competent, and loyal volunteers and they volunteer because they feel it is their civic duty. They tend to pick an organization or job to commit to and stay with it for many years. They prefer communication over the phone, in written letters or in person.

Baby Boomers: They are ambitious, competent, and competitive workers. They want to know how they are part of the bigger picture, and if they are making an impact with their work. They want short term, specific assignments and opportunities to use their special skills. They prefer to communicate through email, on the phone, or in person.

Generation X: They are adaptable, confident, self-starters, and very determined. They are technologically savvy and highly educated. They volunteer when they see a cause that impacts them directly. They communicate through email, text, and Facebook.

Millennials: They are also highly educated and extremely technologically savvy. They are enthusiastic, fun, and eager. They crave personal attention and lots of praise. Like the Traditionalists, they volunteer because they believe it is their civic duty and want to make a difference. Also, many students volunteer to gain professional experience. They are living in an age of social media and communicate through Facebook, Twitter, or text.

Do you think these generalizations are true for you? What has been your experience working as a volunteer (or in the workplace) among a community of different generations? Leave us a comment and let us know!


By Emily Crenner, Volunteer Outreach Intern

Sources:; MAVA;  HandsOn Twin Cities MCN Conference, 2011; Kupperschmidt, B. R. (2000). Multigenerational employees: Strategies for effective management. The Health Care Manager, 19, 65-67.  

Blog Category: