November 5, 2009

TED India: How charities and social enterprises can win over Generation Y

(transcript of my talk at TED India on November 5, 2009)

Charitable organizations and social enterprises – they want to talk to me.  But it’s not because I run one, or because I’m a strategy consultant by trade.  That doesn’t matter to them.  They’re interested because I’m a part of Generation Y.

For those of you who don’t know, “Generation Y” is the term used to describe people that were born between the late 1970s and early 1990s.  Sometimes called the “Baby Boom Echo” or “The Millenials,” we’re a growing force to be reckoned with, particularly in the world of philanthropy.

You see, with the weakened economy depleting Baby Boomer bank accounts, forward-looking organizations are starting to realize that they need to get Generation Y on board and get their support if they want to survive the 21st century.

Unfortunately, our support is not always so easy to get.  We’re sometimes called the “Me Generation.”  We have a bad reputation for being kind of self-centered and notoriously fickle.  So, I’m not surprised when I hear leaders of social enterprises throwing their arms up in aggravation saying, “What are we supposed to do to win you people over?”

I’m starting to think that aggravation comes from having given up some of their more traditional methods of fundraising, like direct mail and black tie galas, in favor of leveraging the internet and social media to reach young people.  But now they have these “cool” websites and “awesome” MySpace pages, and they’re still struggling.  So, what gives?

I’m here to say that having a comprehensive online presence is great, but that’s table stakes.  We expect that from you already.  If you really want to win over Generation Y, you’re going to need to embody the two things we care about most in social enterprise:  transparency and problem solving.

We grew up in the information age, so, naturally, we demand information.  We expect figuring out where our money is going to be just as easy as checking a friend’s Twitter feed.  Numbered are the days of the monolithic umbrella organization that’s skimming 30 or 40 cents off of every dollar for unknown “administrative costs.”  We want to know exactly where our money is going.

Also, the technological innovations that shaped our youth have really spoiled us – or, I like to say, inspired us – to think there is no problem we can’t eventually solve.  We’re really keen on solving the core problems behind the social issues we see out there today, so we’re not really interested in the handouts that we perceive to be bandaids on a problem.  Put another way, we’re more interested in teaching a man to fish than feeding him for a day.

I know this is a scary time to be a leader of a social enterprise, but there’s something you can do about it.  Yes, we want you to have a “sweet” Facebook page, but we want you to be transparent, creative problems solvers even more.  If you can prove to us that you’re doing that, I promise you, we’ll do a lot more than just accept your friend request.

1 comment:

Brent said...

Can't wait to see the video. Keep up the TED presence. Love it.