When I look around at all the various non-profit organizations I work with in one capacity or another, I’m always a little distressed at seeing how old all of us organizers are getting. The common refrain is, “Well, we want to turn the reins over, but we can’t find successors. We’re getting burned out.” Is it that young people don’t want to get involved? I highly doubt that, as I see them doing things that are quite relevant to them. I’m pretty sure the proportion of those who get involved to those who don’t is pretty much the same as in all the preceding generations. What then are the issues? It’s a two-fold problem, and easy to fix, assuming those in charge really want to.
1: The current generation “in charge” is usually made up of type A ex-business professionals who aren’t great at letting go. They say they want help, but only if things are done exactly their way, the way “things have always been done.” These elders need to understand one thing: the organization was there before you came along, and will be there long after, assuming you don’t screw it up. The fix here is simple. When a younger generation member wants to help out, let them, and in their own way. Let them change things. It’s 2021, almost 2022. Get out of the way. Or maybe just go away. You can do it with grace and humility and humor, or you can help sink the organization.
2: From the standpoint of events, what was once a tradition may now be an albatross. Just because it’s been done that way doesn’t mean it needs to continue that way. Here’s where the intersection of music, food and attractions meet to make something special. The location, of course, is dictated by the actual organization itself. land Trusts would be at a property, historic preservationists at the building you’re trying to preserve. But the purpose of the event needs to be showcased. That in turn dictates the type of attractions you can add: a hike, a cooking class, an archeological dig, a kid’s picking group for little musicians, maybe paint-in for an arts organization.
The critical element in putting the event together is to let the younger generation help shape the musicians that might play, the food trucks or offerings that cater, and the attractions for everyone to enjoy. The experienced hands can handle the minutia, the permits, the finances, any rentals, etc, and use that as an opportunity to teach the technical aspects behind an event to the newcomers. It’s not difficult, it’s just details.
The key though is to actively seek out the younger generations opinions on what they want, and then actually do it. If it’s true that they want experiences, and not stuff, then host experiences, not antique sales. Following up with programs throughout the year also makes a difference, but that’s another chapter for next time.
Remember, to get young, get out of the way.