Attracting Young Professionals to Mission-Driven Organizations

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Working with a non-profit membership-based organization, I find myself researching the area of government resiliency or being flexible and adaptable to various environmental changes. One of these changes at the forefront of our minds is what the public sector calls the “silver tsunami,” or the retirement of baby boomers, leaving open positions across all levels of government. This has gotten us to think more strategically about how to attract workers, including strategies to attract a younger generation into the public sector.

Before I go too far, let me state that there are parallels to draw from in both the non-profit and government realm. At its essence, governments are mission oriented—to serve a population/community—as is working with any non-profit. Many concepts we’re researching have great application to the non-profit sector as well. This is the reason why I encourage you to share comments and feedback on this blog and hope that we can continue the discussion!

My second preface is that being a Millennial or member of Generation Y, I do find some frustration with the stereotypes and at times being analyzed but not being a part of the conversation on the generation that I’m a part of. With that said, I’m excited to be part of the conversation within my sector and hope you all can continue the dialogue with your organization and beyond!

So, what are researching? First, we are building from the ideas of Daniel Pink’s book Drive, focusing on three topical areas.

  • This relates to the mission-orientation of both the public sector and non-profit sector. We, as people, seek purpose, to make a contribution and to be part of a greater cause. What Pink suggests is that within organizations, this new “purpose motive” has manifested itself in three ways. The first is through goals that use profit (in the non-profit space to raise funds to support our cause) to reach purpose. The second is through words that emphasize more than self-interest, and finally in policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms.
  • Pink suggests high performance also requires a level of freedom. Specifically, people need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it).
  • Mastery is a mindset of viewing our own capacities as infinitely improvable. As such, it comes with effort, demand, and practice. However, it isn’t fully realizable, which makes it all the more alluring yet frustrating.

 We are challenging our several of our members (local governments across the country and in Canada) to think about these concepts and how they can/have apply these within their organizations. While the areas of purpose and autonomy have slightly easier applications, the idea of mastery is a bit more abstract. How can we encourage a mindset of continuous improvement? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this and the other topical areas and how you’ve seen your organization applied these ideas well.

The three topical areas of Pink have broader application across every segment of the workforce, but we also want to focus specifically on Millennials. For this, we borrow ideas from Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant’s book When Millennials Take Over. They identify what they call the four major capacities that will drive the future of business.

  1. The support of a digital mindset and embracing technology to allow for employees to be innovative.
  2. The notion that while employees may not know answers, there is an assumption that they can access whatever information is needed to act quickly and to make quality decisions.
  3. An important idea from this concept is to provide different individuals an opportunity to take action as well as not relying on certain individuals to always take action. This requires self-awareness and soft skills, but more importantly ownership.
  4. The future of business is swift responses to challenges and demands. To help expedite action, there must be trust in the employees (as well as a balance in giving up some control).

In my experience working with several non-profits, the ideas drawn from fluid are very much happening today. Sometimes this is driven by smaller staff, so that everyone is a jack of all trades. Of course, this is not to say that every small organization has a similar environment. Are your organizations embracing any or all of these four capacities? If so, what have they done to support these capacities?

Participate in the discussion and follow our journey on Twitter @GFOA #Resiliency.


Elizabeth Fu

Elizabeth Fu is a Senior Consultant at the Government Finance Officers Association, a membership-based organization of over 18,000 finance professionals. Her research focuses on the area of resiliency and long-term financial planning. She works with governments in the area of organizational assessments and risk analysis. Elizabeth is also on the Board of Directors for All A-Board Alliance and Open Books’ Associate Board.