There are approximately 80 million millennials and they’re rapidly taking over from the baby boomers. Millennials are often called entitled or lazy because some still live with their parents and cannot stop taking selfies. They have experienced the impact of the economic recession, including piles of student debt, while receiving pressure to do better than their parents. Despite this millennials have drive and optimism.
As engaged citizens, millennials are finding their own voices. Organizations like Generation Progress work for and with young people to find progressive solutions to key political and social challenges throughout the country like immigration reform and student debt. Additionally, young people are running for office and winning. Minnesota State Representative Joe Radinovich was the youngest member of the 2013-2014 legislature at the age of 26 and Manitowoc, Wisconsin’s mayor, Justin Nickels, was the youngest elected mayor in the country at the age of 22.
Millennials are not the only ones fighting to make a change. Take, for example, my personal heroes – Dr. Jane Goodall, 80, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, 65. Not only do they believe that change is possible, they make change happen. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, Goodall and Warren are in the arena rather than the critic on the side.
At the age of 26, Jane Goodall was the first woman to travel to Africa and study chimpanzees, altering the way humans think about chimpanzees. She is now a United Nations Messenger of Peace traveling the world encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment. Similarly, Senator Warren believes the American financial system is rigged against hard working people. Before being elected a US Senator from Massachusetts, she founded the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, which works to ensure consumers get the information they need to make financial decisions.
Jane Goodall and Elizabeth Warren are in the arena fighting for a more equitable and just society, but they are not the only ones. As millennial nonprofit leaders, many of us are using our passion and intelligence to seize opportunities and achieve change. It’s not the six-figure salary that brings us to work every day but rather it’s our opportunity to make a difference in the lives of real people.
My journey to the nonprofit field began at home before I knew what a nonprofit organization was. Growing up in Wisconsin, my family like others suffered from the impact of too much alcohol. Realizing that I could not make a change at home on my own, I looked to my school and community. As with many social issues, people are flooded with persuasive messaging from the media. In Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, many young people believed it was acceptable to drink underage, leaving alcohol-free youth without a voice.
Over the next four years, I made sure young people had a seat at the table and worked part-time during college as a community organizer for a nonprofit that gave alcohol-free youth a strong voice in their community. By working with community leaders, we bridged the gap between youth and adults to make important policy and systematic changes. The health and safety of the community was improving and unexpectedly, my home life was too. That was my “aha” moment when I knew public service was right for me.
I’m not the only millennial who identified a problem and frankly, got shit done. Young nonprofit leaders step into the arena and fight for issues everyday. We bring a set of unique experiences that give us the courage to stand up and improve lives through avenues like theater, advocacy, or taxes. The results of hard work are not always visible but without driven and optimistic nonprofit millennials, change would never happen.
Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, explained it best when she said:
Despite the frustrations and disappointments, which are many, there is no work that is more rewarding than public service. You may go somewhere else and you may make a lot of money but you will never receive the kind of gratification that you receive from looking someone in the eye who says ‘thank you for helping make my life better.'