Breakout #11: Intergenerational mentoring


Facilitator: Eric Schoenborn, Creative Director, Knight Foundation Scribe: Roberta King, Vice President, P.R. and Marketing, Grand Rapids Community Foundation

Eric came to the Knight Foundation three years ago and still, the foundation is bringing in lots of new young talent. The foundation’s CEO embraces new ideas, welcomes young people and understands the challenges of innovation.

Community activities are shared over generations—basic things like playing music, fishing, going to an event. Shared values in a family or a community span a generation. Perhaps, the key is to be with people of different generations in activities that are not necessarily work-related.

Personal experiences with multiple generations help build the ability to work with multiple generations in the workplace on both ends of the age spectrum.

Approach people with a learning lens. Find the shared goal, the common values that bring you (the two generations) together. 

Opinions about a subject can change with the help of a social media site like Twitter and Facebook. For example, Knight research found that students who used social media were more likely to treasure the First Amendment.  (See this infographic.)

Take opportunities to give and take with multiple generations, mentoring can go both ways—younger to older and older to younger.

It is important to recognize the offerings of each generation and to show respect for what each person knows and has experienced. Each generation has to help another overcome its fears.

Crowdsourcing of ideas is good for all—and younger generations understand this. For older generations it might take a cultural shift for this kind of input, learn how to be at that party.

The urgency of the need to know or learn may cause people to embrace a younger generation i.e. use of technology.

Young people can bring in a power shift as well as a change in the status quo. How can we work through this? It is about understanding change on the leadership level. A leader needs to understand change and how to make it happen. At Knight, it brought in better partners to do the programmatic work. Know who you are and bring in the right partner for your organization.

Leaders vs. followers: choose which you want to be. It takes a sacrifice to commit to significant change. It takes some setting of oneself aside to make change. It all takes effort, too. Respect is critical, as is humility.

Will Community Foundations be image-eclipsed by Kickstarter, Donors Choose and Kiva because they don’t/won’t have an online presence? Connecting with young donors will require you to be in the space where young people live. How will young people connect with your Community Foundation? Some Community Foundations are suffering from the tax shelter for wealthy people with good intentions identity. Will young people be able to relate? Program work needs to reflect, even a tiny slice of the community young people are interested in being part of. At Knight, they are making smaller grants for arts projects, which are less intimidating and easier for people to relate to…

Age Wave book provides some material on the subject of generations in the workforce.

Working with five generations in the workplace at one time was difficult for managers, especially those who could not set their own ideas and “self” aside.

Older generations need to look at skilled and talented younger people who can fill positions to keep the organization relevant. Hire people who want your job.

The generations don’t hear things the same—i.e. a strategic plan presented to a 20, 20, 40, 50, 60 and 70+ year old people won’t react they same way to the contents. Finding the common place, shared value is critical for success. Age is just a number—don’t be afraid to be too young or too old.

Philanthropy is learned differently by generations: WWII generation, shared sacrifice, war bonds and the church collection plate. Millennial generation is project focused with their giving.

Can organizational change come from the Trustee side? Governance boards need to bring perspective to the Community Foundation and not get bogged down in the legal/administrative work.

Generational differences can be compounded by insider/outsider behavior.

Change doesn’t have to involve loss. The word change in itself evokes fear in people. Change can involve gain. This philosophy can be very powerful.

Annie E. Casey Foundation has a helpful monograph re: nonprofit generational leadership.

Paint the picture of a cool place and people will want to come there. Don’t try hard too be cool, but do cool things and people will come to you. People want to do cool things that are meaningful.

Work to find your “engaged” citizens, people who want to make your community great and bring them to your work.

GI Generation had the common cause of the war to bring them together. They worked and suffered together. They also had no trouble finding jobs—there was no shortage of jobs or competition. It is important that both older and younger generations realize this big workplace difference.

Foundations can suffer from generational issues—people (or grantees) may not believe that they could get a grant some won’t even apply without urging because they distrust institutions. Keep an eye out for “sparkplugs” people that are doing things and going places and find opportunities to bring them in. Reach out to people you want involved with your foundation. Urge them to apply for grants.

When you hire a young person, you need to be able to listen to them and trust why you brought them in. Remember what you wanted them for… older people need to remember that they once came into the workforce young and full of knowledge and to be patient and acclimate them to the workplace. The workplace is a hard place for young people (think about what it is like to be a new employee) give them the nurturing you’d want.