Gen X vs. Gen Y: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Kristin Simonetti (@KMSEditor) is a senior editor for CURRENTS magazine.

CASE’s May/June CURRENTS magazine cover story about coping with demanding young alumni couldn’t have published at a better time. About a week after the issue mailed, Time magazine released its May 20 edition, which declared “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents” in a headline for Joel Stein’s now-infamous article. A couple of days later, republished a rebuttal blog post from Campus Progress’ Emily Crockett that argued hardworking, disillusioned Generation Yers bunking up with Mom and Dad are what they are because of “just how badly the baby boomer-created system has failed them.”

The reality, of course, is that both sides can be argued. A 2010 study by the National Institutes of Health—although it has come under some recent scrutiny—showed changes in narcissism based on age, not generation. The authors conclude, “Every generation is Generation Me, as every generation of young people is more narcissistic than their elders.” And, as a CURRENTS reader wrote in response to our article, “Young graduates simply want alumni programming that matches their needs and [recognition] that these needs may not be the same as previous generations. Is that really all that bad?”

No, it’s not. But reaching Generation Y still requires thinking outside the box. Here are a few places to start.

  • Make your message human. This article offers advice on how to market to millennials. One of the key points is: Keep it conversational. A layman’s approach can foster an effective emotional connection.
  • They come in all shapes and sizes. Not all millennials are gadget-worshipping vegans, says this Mashable article. A 2012 marketing study identified six subcategories of millennials with significantly different life priorities.
  • Look beyond the buck. If you’re struggling to fundraise among your youngest graduates, plant the seed of service first. “Young alumni are really big about making a difference,” says Tiffany Storm, director of annual giving at Purdue University, in this article from May 11, 2013. “Part of being philanthropic is more than just a gift. It’s about volunteering, staying connected, and understanding traditions.”
  • It takes one to know one. Take a look at your advancement staff, too. How many millennials work for you as annual giving or alumni relations officers? Read the upcoming July/August issue of CURRENTS to learn more about how Generation Y’s personality traits make them a perfect fit for development work.

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