About a year ago, I sat down to write two white papers on issues I had rumbling around in my head that involved the changing roles, as I saw it, of nonprofit organizations and foundations as well as the changing relationship between those organizations and citizens.  Trust me that had I finished writing those, you would have been privy as they would have been up on the blog.  Needless to say, my brain was taken over by work as is the problem that always comes up, and they remain strings of thoughts in text files on my computer.

Today, I finally made a little time to read through Social Citizens from Allison Fine and The Case Foundation.  It tore apart all of the other things I was thinking about today and threw me back into the subject of those white papers from last year.  It was wonderful!  So, I took it as a sign that I needed to get some of those thoughts out to you all this time around.  Keep in mind that these are my thoughts and I would love a chance (read: the time) to expand on them fully, so I apologize for the brevity.  Also, these ideas do not only sprout from this recent publication, obviously, but are inspired through many reports and from my own experiences as a Millenial.

Changing Role of Nonprofits and Foundations

Because so much of the organizing and activism, and thus information and opinion, around issues is done in networks of friends and family, the problem with access to both sides of the story and the opportunity for an independent and unique opinion grows.  As views are shaped by those closest to the individual, there is much less of a chance for a network-created cause or action to include full dialogue of an issue.

Nonprofits and foundations will continue to be tied to causes, changes, actions, and groups that form in social networks and elsewhere on the web.  The role these organizations have in the relationship will change to incorporate the need for access to the big picture.

Nonprofits and foundations will become sources for information and reliable reporting.  They will be the places that personalized campaigns link to for the background and continued data on an issue.  As the fundraising and momentum building moves more and more into the hands of supporters across the web and around the world, the relationship with the aligned organizations changes to reallocate responsibilities.  As information, data, and reporting providers, these organizations will work to ensure that the multitude of unique campaigns taking place simultaneously by supporters provide an opportunity for those networks and potential interested citizens to learn more (and act more).

Changing Expectations of Government and Corporations

Millenials feel political change by individuals is impossible and that political actions like voting and participating in the political arena as it currently exists do not have the impact they want.  This doesn’t mean that young voters aren’t turning out, as we see from the numbers in 2004 and so far in the primaries that the youth vote is taking a big upswing.  But, young voters view their action closer to a symbolic step than a concrete motion.

Millenials are also very concerned about and aware of the cause-related work that corporations are involved in, choosing to support (or purchase from) organizations that are environmentally conscious, giving back to the community, and/or contributing to changing social problems.  Young people report, as it says in the report, having more confidence in corporations than they do in the government.

This could mean that instead of groups of citizens urging politicians and policymakers to make changes around issues or specific legislation, that citizens instead turn to corporations who are aligned with those issues and support them in pressuring the government.  Standing behind more than just a product, but trusting in the clout of a corporation to swing policymakers.

To go further, this could even have implications for key supporters to have a ‘role’ (of some sort) in the leadership of the corporation.  This would complete the circle of accountability between the corporation and the supporters who have chosen to be loyal to the organization because of the issue alignment.

Changing Identity

In previous generations, personal identify was defined by career/job title and field.  You were an engineer or a teacher or a scientist.  That meant something when you said it to a new acquaintance and similarly created automatic circles of colleagues even if you hadn’t met personally.

Now, as taking action for Millenials has become incredibly important and easy via the social communities and world of the web, who you are is no longer defined by the college major you graduated with.  Not only are people of my generation projected to change career fields, not just employers, many times over compared to past generations, but we have come of age in a time when learning is no longer a hierarchical or institutional activity.

The power to do something is in our hands and accessed any time we want online.  This means, Millenials will be identified with their issue-alignment and causes.  The personalized widgets for fundraising campaigns, challenges, and international issues now speak to who we are.  We find friends through the interconnected profile links of campaigns to save Darfur or cancer awareness.  My online actions and challenges are met by people from all backgrounds, job titles, and locations – but we are all working to protect the environment, or raise air quality standards, or stop human trafficking.

The way I expect not just my friends and family, but also my employers and politicians to identify me and communicate with me is also effected by the way I am defined by issues and not simply where I live or where I work.

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I know that is just the tip of the iceberg for three incredibly large areas, but I was going to burst if I didn’t get at least that much out of my head.  I would really, really love to hear what you think and keep this conversation going.  As the way individuals ‘live’ online is already drastically changing the way nonprofits do their work.

Thoughts on Millennials and political action
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