You can’t have “Generous and Sexy” without Gen X


tape-1138088_960_720Hi everyone, before we launch into today’s topic, here’s a very important announcement on something that may affect the future of our entire sector: Double-spacing after periods is dead. Dead, I tell you! Here’s the Proclamation I wrote after receiving over 500 comments on the subject. Please print it out and post it in your bathroom or another high-traffic place.

I wrote a few weeks ago, in 15 lessons for the nonprofit sector we learned in 2015, “Let’s stop stereotyping generations and instead treat people like the uniquely beautiful, or crappy, snowflakes that they are.” Since then, however, I’ve encountered even MORE articles on Millennials: “How to Get Millennial Donors to Give,” “How to Manage Millennials,” “How to Manage Yourself When a Millennial is Managing You,” “Studies Show Productivity Increase When Millennials Fed Sriracha-Flavored Craft Beer After Hot Yoga,” etc.

Depending on the definition, I am either Gen X or Millennial, but I’ve been an Executive Director long enough that I’ve aged twice as fast the last few years, placing me squarely into Gen X territory. However, I don’t care what generation you belong to as long as you do stuff and do it well and do it on time and you are pleasant, so I’m sick of all this handwringing about Millennials, and, to an almost equal degree, Boomers. But since the articles and books and documentaries and puppet shows about the generations are not going to go away any time soon, we as a field might as well bring some balance, and pay a little more attention to the Gen Xers. Here are some facts from Nonprofit Tech for Good and MarketWatch that all nonprofits need to be aware of:

  • Gen Xers are generous, giving an average of $1,033.28 annually (Boomers give $1,248.80 and Millennials give $644.92). They give more frequently too.
  • Gen Xers volunteer at greater rates than other generations
  • Gen Xers’ household incomes are higher than other generations
  • Gen Xers are politically diverse, and thus are critical swing voters

Gen X peeps are building wealth, generously donating their money, volunteering a bunch, play a key role in our political system, and are also likely to be taking up the mantle of leadership at many organizations across the globe. And yet we continue to ignore this group of people. They’re like the middle kids. Or that movie, Twister. It was a huge hit, but when was the last time someone was like, “Hey, let’s watch Twister again”? I asked Gen Xers on the NWB Facebook community for their thoughts, and here are a few:

“We’re a generation who is adaptable (we all had to learn technology the hard way – from scratch, with a 28.8k modem and DOS) and creative (who do you think invented platform for all the cool tech of today?). We’re used to putting our heads down, not making excuses, and getting things done. We don’t want medals, we want everyone else to just pull their weight.”

“Gen Xers are in some cases (at least in my part of non-profit-land) the first generation who got into this field as a profession, and not as a second career/retirement gig. Nothing against the older generation who came before – many of them were pioneers in conservation – but I sense a resistance in some quarters to the professionalization of smaller, conservation or community-based non-profits. I’m 40 and have worked for non-profits my entire career and specifically sought out higher education that prepared me for continued work in the nonprofit world.”

“I’m a 40-something that often feels like the meat in the sandwich…Currently in my province, I am astounded at the number of opportunities available for youth. It’s hard not to feel slighted and annoyed that all of these great opportunities could be mine if I were only 20 years younger (even though I pay my fair share of taxes). On the flip side, most of my colleagues that are nearing retirement age are not ready to give up their jobs, so there’s little opportunity to move up. If a great job does come up we are often overlooked because they want ‘young and fresh.’ ”

“I would like someone on my (volunteer and paid) team to say something like ‘I’m really interested in how we get Gen X involved in our cause.’ Have those words ever been spoken? The media buzz around Millennials and their needs make it seem like an entire generation is kind of floating there, taken for granted. And yet, this generation has huge giving power, interests, volunteerism. I’d love to see people realize that we absolutely care and are vital to the nonprofit community.”

“What do I want in a workplace or volunteer experience? I want fairness. I want people to pull their own weight. I was taught to figure things out for myself, and I dearly, dearly want the people around me to spend a little more time thinking about a problem before coming to me to solve it…I don’t want a pat on the back or a gold star or a ribbon for participation.”

“It is frustrating that there is so little attention paid to our generational cohort—understandable given our relative size, but frustrating. In my community, we are seeing a generational leadership change with a bunch of Gen X folks taking the reins at major non-profits. Yet all anyone seems to ask them about is how they plan to attract Millennials.”

“We want to feel needed and listened to and respected for the hard work that we’ve done throughout our 25+ career years. We are flexible and eager to learn new things for the most part and hate to be dismissed just because we don’t feel the need to be on SnapChat as soon as we wake.”

“We recently talked to a group of Gen X donors and they were very keen to provide skilled services on a volunteer basis (web design, accounting, data analysis, etc.). I don’t know if it’s just our market, but I suggest that people consider talking about this with your donors and other supporters. There is a lot of potential there.”

“We were trained for a system that was already beginning to be dismantled. We put pressure on ourselves to live up to the living standards of our parents even as the mechanisms that made it possible—defined benefit pensions, tenure, union protections—evaporated.”

“Gen Xers are entering the peak of their careers and their giving potential, yet everyone is focused on Millennials. If you’re not looking at Gen Xers, you’re walking away from next year’s key donors and advocates.”

“I can’t wait for my Millennial Overlords to take over. It’s like waiting for the Rapture!”

There is clearly frustration among the Gen Xers that I’ve talked to, and I think it’s justified. If we’re going to make sweeping generalizations, then Gen Xers are hardworking, adaptable, smart, generous, and talented people who value a strong work ethic and high work quality. The nonprofit sector ignores this generation at its peril.

So, what are you going to do about it at your organization? Here are a few things I can think of:

Strengthen professional development for your Gen Xers: Unless a Millennial vaults over them, Gen Xers are likely going to be next generation of nonprofit EDs/CEOs. Prepare for this at your org by ensuring they are receiving mentorship, coaching, training, and professional connections. 

Create leadership pipelines: If your org has not talked about succession planning in a while or ever, start talking, and start planning. I’ve seen many great orgs fail because there is no plan for succession for when a Boomer leader retires. Some Gen Xers get tired of waiting and end up leaving. Check in with your superstar Gen X team members about their career goals.

Have family-friendly policies: Gen X folks are now having kids while also possibly caring for aging Boomer parents. If your organization’s policies and practices are not family-friendly, you may lose good Gen X team members. Have generous family leave, flexible work hours, and a family-friendly work environment.

Make it easy for Gen Xers to volunteer: Make volunteer opportunities family-friendly; think of Gen Xers’ kids as future volunteers, donors, and professionals. Due to their family obligations, it can be challenging to get Gen Xers on boards. Check in with them; maybe it’s hard for them to make a 6pm meeting because their kids’ bedtime is 7:00pm.

Build relationships with Gen X donors: Gen X donors are generous. The ones who may not be able to give as much because they have kids will likely give more as their kids grow, so we as a sector needs to focus more on this generation of donors.

Let me know your thoughts. Millennials and Boomers are great. But let’s pay some damn attention to the constantly-neglected Jan Bradys of the generations, OK? Here is a Pinterest page from colleague Amy Erekson Varga with some interesting articles on Gen X. Now, if anyone needs me, I’m going to be making a mixed tape of U2 hits so I can play it on my Walkman. 

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  • RubyJuly

    With all due respect, sir, you have never met my former typing teacher, Sister Sheila (affectionately dubbed Sister Savage by generations of students before me), She is fully capable and indeed awaiting ANY infraction on my part (up to and including looking at the keys while i type) to come roaring back from the great Convent in the Sky to slap me in the back of the head the moment i fail to place 2 spaces after a period. Modern Convention be damned (no pun intended), This is a Nun, after all – Modern Convention is the Devil’s Handwork and will surely lead us all to Hell as certainly as patent leather shoes, too short uniform skirts, lipstick and dancing. (Given your assumed age, you may have to look most of this up.) Love your blog, eagerly await it every Monday, but sir, I will not risk a visit from the Great Beyond for failing to double space following a full stop punctuation mark! 😉

    • I’m with you RubyJuly!! I gave up the fight with my university over the DS after periods. Even the venerable APA 6th manual agues for single space, but some in academia refuse to part with the beloved DS. It’s now automatic from muscle memory. I will say that for some fonts and formats, the DS does improve readability. I know. I caved.

    • Melissa X

      Millenials don’t even know what a typing class is! Do they all index finger type? Or thumb text on the keyboard?

      • RubyJuly

        Index finger type? Sister Sheila would explode in a fiery rage! 🙂

    • Rebecca Stratosphere

      Double spacing after periods were required on typewriters because the characters were all the same width (there is an official name for that). Now with variable widths and the internet, double spacing after periods is just a formatting disaster waiting to happen. Sincerely, a former Layout and Design professional turned Non-Profit Communicator.

  • Morri Young

    Oh I am so happy to see the Declaration. I’ve been ranting about the Declaration. I’ve been using Find & Replace to remove the double space in all my staff’s communication for years. Now we have The Declaration to forbid it! Thank you. Thank you

    • OMG! Here’s a Boomer of Advanced Youth saying there’s a better way than “Find & Replace”…In Word, you go to Preferences, select a style (e.g., standard), then go to settings. In settings, you can set your preference for spaces between sentences. Then, whenever you open a document for review, you can make sure your style is selected and Word will automagically find all the offending double spaces! My tip for Monday.

      • Morri Young

        Thank you Sherry. Brilliant solution… Have one for Google?! Also… looking for a sobriety group to help me keep to only one elipse and one exclamation mark per paragraph!

  • mbutown

    I will only sacrifice my second space after a period, or my Oxford comma when they pry them from my cold dead grant proposal.
    As a member of “Baby Boom/Gen X Cusp Sitters International” I can only say, “PREACH BROTHER!” Do you know how many conversations I’ve had over the years regarding the engagement of Boomers in planned giving and Millennials as new donors with a complete disregard for the Gen X volunteer/donor. When I’m not working for non-profit, I’m volunteering at one. I have only ever worked for a for-profit when I was fresh out of college and painfully unemployed. It lasted 4 months and I have never gone back. My drive to be the change I wanted to see has always superseded new cars, fancy vacations or non leftover box wine from an donor event. I have been passed over, passed on and passed out because of I’m not “new” or “fresh” enough. I’ve endured the Millennials cry in angst over our lack of “net presence” while I plead with to try a proven “old school” donor cultivation practice like, “having a conversation” with a donor. I could go on. I won’t. Great piece.
    I’m going back to my double space after a period latest proposal, your proclamation be damned!

  • Alisha Johnson

    YEA!! I feel affirmed!! Finally, 44 years old and married to my non-profit gets the recognition it deserves!

  • jahphotogal

    It’s funny – I was born at the end of 1964, neither a boomer, really (despite being in the last year of the Baby Boom, at 51 I really have little in common with the bulk of them), nor an X-er – I’m nothing. I felt about the Xers the way they feel now about Millennials. It’s the plight of almost every generation, I suppose. And at, did I mention, 51, having been the ED of a small rural community center for 15 years, there is pretty much nowhere to go. But I’m with you about 2 spaces. Automatic kerning made that obsolete a long time ago.

  • Devra Thomas

    THANK YOU. I, too, am an X-er/Millienial cusp baby-now-adult and the constant harping on Millenials makes me so frustrated. When I ran a small nonprofit theater, I often remarked “Give me the late 40/early 50’s folks, let me build THOSE relationships as our next wave of patrons. They have disposable income, rarely have young kids at home, and are looking for interesting new things to do/donate to.”

    • And you’d be wise to do so! As we age, we become more altruistic. Them’s just the facts, ma’am!

  • Karen Staley

    As a solid Gen X’er I could not agree more!!

  • Dana Jaehnert

    I’m a “millenial” – and I think all this generational talk is overbearing too!! Especially the stereotyping and leaving people out… but maybe that is a mark of a millenial anyway… :/ Sigh.

    • Rebecca Stratosphere

      Yeah well I thought I was a Gen Y and there’s no mention of us anywhere. Truly we are the forgotten generation!

      Just kidding. I think what this article almost gets, but is missing, is that nonprofits (or anyone marketing, I guess) needs to know its audience and tailor it appropriately. This goes beyond demographics to who is really interested in and interacting with what you do.

  • Sara Abernethy

    Great article. Thanks for writing this – I think you bring up so many great points, and it’s important to put a real focus on cultivating this group.

  • 41 year old ED here. I like Rush, Joshua Tree and earlier U2, and generally speaking any music that was made more with instruments than computers and loops.

  • Melody G
  • Ah, Vu, you always say exactly what I need to hear. So tired of never getting mentioned as a Gen-Xer. And hey, we brought you Friends. That should count for something!!

  • Dr Ingerb

    Bryan Garner, the guy who wrote *Modern American Usage* (yeah, the guy who literally wrote the book…), uses the following principle to distinguish between constructive evolution in the language and the opposite: if it creates a useful distinction that was not previously available, then keep it; if it either erodes a currently useful distinction or adds a variation that does not bring a useful distinction with it, then lose it. By that standard, the second space is a valued friend, and those who would abandon it are the breeders of vagueness. (Equally valued, comrade mbutown, is the graceful and ever-clarifying Oxford comma.) A better use of energy than this ill-considered declaration: teach the young the importance of the vanishing but still mandatory hyphen in compound modifiers: a “racial-justice movement” may some day bring us racial justice, but a “racial justice movement” is more likely to bring us only a movement that is in some way racial–which, in America, doesn’t sound like the way forward.

  • Melissa X

    This is possibly my most favorite post you’ve written! As a 4o-year-old who has worked my career exclusively in the non-profit sector — and a legit middle child — I am frankly tired of employers catering to the needs of Millenials. The Gen Xers are the real non-profit unicorns in my opinion! Last year, I worked at a small non-profit with a brand new E.D., a Boomer already of retirement age with a pension awaiting. She didn’t know the field, didn’t have the connections, and hired me to work in a role that I would never truly be allowed to fulfill. She also set up the expectation that I would be included in succession planning and would take over the mantle, whether I wanted it or not. Well, after a few months of me kicking butt (despite the many constraints placed upon me), she hired a former assistant from an old job (who was also a Boomer) because she said she needed “another adult in the room” to supervise me and my very bright Millenial colleague. I agree with many who commented on your FB post…we don’t want recognition or glory, we just want to do the job and do it well. But, also, do not take advantage of me or scapegoat me for all the failures of the organization! Do not reject my surprisingly “fresh” and “innovative” ideas that come from actual experience, skills and knowledge and then wonder why you are getting nowhere. Sadly, I have been brainwashed into eliminating Oxford commas and double spacing after periods. But mixed tapes shall live forever!

  • I started and then deleted my thoughts on being part of the overlooked Generation X about 5 times when you asked for submissions. Fortunately, I think this covered almost anything I would have said except: how do we start claiming this amazing mantle of power that we see before us? There is definitely this assumption that the Boomers will just hand everything over to the Millennials… but we all know those damn kids aren’t wise enough yet to run things. (Hello, learn some interpersonal skills!) I do find it interesting there wasn’t really much mention of Planned Giving in regards to the Boomers, but I think that’s because most of them are still in denial about their own mortality. (I know my own parents sure are.) I’m curious about how planned giving programs around the NPO world are doing with that demographic and would love to see some discussion on here about how to “gently nudge” the older generation into retirement.

  • dsmjsm

    I was in newspapers when Gen Xers were actually a market (10 years ago). There were meetings every day, “How can we appeal to the Gen X market? J, come to this meeting. We need your Gen X input.” That lasted about a week.

  • Sherrie Smith

    I’m 36 years old so on the “cusp” between generations (though I feel a connection to Gen X more than Millennial) and feel a lot of this frustration as well.
    Frankly when I come across other Gen Xers they are skilled, realistic, ass-busters who get up after being knocked down and are used to working in the shadows, like batman. We don’t get attention and we don’t expect it. We give because we are used to not getting.
    Last year I mentioned Gen X to somebody (a boomer) who then said that Generation X is nothing but godless murdering heathens. I shrugged, got into my car, and listened to Marilyn Manson and Nirvana on the way home.

  • Berkely Breathed made the double space after a full stop a campaign issue. Makes about as much sense as what’s been proposed so far.

  • Violet

    I am a millennial and I think it’s crazy to ask my generation for money or time. I don’t know anyone my age that has either of those things!
    I work for 3 nonprofits and am a board member on another, and 3 out of 4 have gen-x EDS. I feel extremely lucky to be able to look up to, learn from, and work with each of them. They are hard working, adaptable, and they see the value in both face to face, paper, and online communication. They aren’t stuck in their ways and have the ability to take a great big idea and make it a successful reality, while making it look easy. I can only aspire to be like them with my less than 5 years experience.
    Also, down with the double space!

  • Carrie Miller

    Vu, you are my spirit animal! You always say exactly what I am thinking but with better phraseology!