I was at the Council on Foundations pre-conference earlier this year where Mark Rosenman asked me if I thought that “next gen” meant radical change in the nonprofit sector. Lately, the term “next gen” has become the buzzword of choice used to describe the next wave of nonprofit leadership, specifically in describing generational changes in the sector.

I always thought “next gen” was a funny little term for Generation Y, connoting an image of a sea of young, fresh faces pumping our fists into the air, ready to take over the world. I wish we had had more time to discuss it, but I recall that my main comment to Mark was that I didn’t necessarily think that the next generation, namely Generation Y, represented drastic change. I was shocked at myself as soon as the words left my mouth. With all of my commentary on how nonprofits need Generation Y leadership, my sense was that although we have vast potential, the majority of us “next gen” folk are not using our skills, education, or power to change the status quo. Rather, much of our


rallying within the nonprofit sector has been around improving work conditions, and obtaining higher salaries.

While it’s clear that young people really want to work in the nonprofit sector, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether we really want to develop the kind of leadership that will effect real social change. Are we still interested in the pursuit of truth and justice? If not, then who moved our values?

Somebody said “To be young and not be revolutionary is a biological contradiction.”
Very well, then, we contradict ourselves. Just because we’re young, does not necessarily mean we really want things to change. As it turns out, we’re not talking about a revolution. At least not in the traditional sense if, by revolution, we are referring to one of its many definitions:

  • a fundamental change in power or organizational structure,
  • a sudden, complete or marked change in something,
  • or even the Latin “revolutio,” to turn over

Most Generation Y nonprofit leaders are not thinking about changing anything. The “next gen” is pretty much still emulating the older generations, afraid to fail, trying not to rock the boat for fear we won’t ever get a chance to sit at the big kids table. We are trying to get the right education so we can learn how to do all the right things at the right time so we can get the right jobs so we can move up into the right positions so someone can bestow upon us the right kind of power that will allow us to finally make a difference and make things right in the world. Believe me, I know because I get tons of related questions through this and my other blog.  We forget that even in the 21st century, the fundamental aspects of creating change have not changed.
We forget that:

  • The revolution will not be televised.
  • The revolution is not a Cause on Facebook.
  • The revolution will not be Twittered.
  • The revolution will not be webinared or webcast and will not be available for download afterward.
  • The revolution will not be funded.
  • The revolution will not happen if we wait for permission.
  • The revolution will not happen if we keep our mouths shut.
  • The revolution is not (entirely) online and you cannot access it with your iPod or even on your shiny new Mac.

The revolution is out there in your community doing the dirty, messy work of 2 million nonprofits, speaking out to oppose that which you are against and speaking up to advance what you are for. The revolution is taking responsibility for our schools and joining your daughter’s PTA, running for a seat on the board of your neighborhood association. The revolution requires the courageous leadership of you and me and everyone we know. We must be the change we wish to see.

Does Generation Y really want change? If the answer is yes, then we’re going to have to prove it.

imageRosetta Thurman is an emerging nonprofit leader of color working and living in the Washington, D.C. area.  She holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and blogs about nonprofit leadership and management issues at Perspectives From the Pipeline.