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From the Me to the We

From the Me to the We

When my kids were little, the PBS series Sesame Street was a staple in our house.  We didn’t have cable, because somehow I thought not having paid television made me a better mother, so the public television station was our singular source of children’s programming.

One of my favorite segments on the show (yes I watched it with them) was “Which One of These Things Doesn’t Belong Here” in which a series of items would be lined up and the kids had to pick which one was out of place.  I would always guess the wrong one just to make my 3 and 6 year olds roll on the floor with laughter.

Last week, I found myself in a real life “Which One Doesn’t Belong” situation.  I was asked by a colleague to be part of a panel at a statewide conference for volunteer managers.  The topic of the panel was engaging Millennials in our communities.  By definition Millennials are the generation born from the early 80s to the early 2000s – think 20-30 year olds.  Research shows they are a highly educated group that focused on positive work/life balance, and although they are strapped with unprecedented student loan debt they have high hopes for their futures.  Additionally, even though they sometimes get a bad, unfounded label the “me, me, me” generation as a group 83% donated to a charitable organization last year.

I was pleased to be invited to join the panel, because in the world of giving and philanthropy we spend time thinking and talking about how to involve all generations in civic, cultural and community involvement.  We want to inspire and connect with the next generation of donors, advocates and volunteers.  I was excited to share what we had learned about this generation with volunteer management professionals and to learn from them as well.

In preparing my comments, I took time to look over information and research the Foundation has collected and shared with some of the families we work with when they are planning a multi-generational philanthropic plan and reflected on the two Millennials closest to me- my former Sesame Street watching son and daughter.  Additionally I am fortunate that nearly half of our team at the Foundation is made up of this generation and their insights help craft our strategies and programs.

I don’t know why I assumed that the panel would be made up of Baby Boomers like myself talking about Millennials.  It was such a short sighted view-as if Millennials would not be the best people to inform and inspire us about their demographic.  The truth is I was the only person on the panel that was not a Millennial and instantly found myself in a Sesame Street moment.  I joked with the crowd that I thought I may have landed in the wrong break out session.  I was the thing that didn’t belong there.

Most of the audience shared Baby Boomer status with me and initially I noticed they were more comfortable asking me questions and relating to my comments, but that quickly changed as soon as the Millennial panelists open their mouths.  We all sat in awe and amazement as they shared their insights and views on work, life and being part of the community.  These “20 somethings” were engaged professionally and personally in making the world a better place.  I think the panelists and their large network of colleagues and friends have accomplish more by 10 a.m. than a lot of the rest of us do all day.  They are not about the “me”, they are a socially networked group with a strong voice who care about the “we”.

I would love to hear from the Millennials in Southwest Florida—if you are one, or like me, have contact with former Sesame Street watchers, please reach out to me and let me know about your involvement and views about our region.  We are planning a forum in the fall to hear your voice and I would like to capture your contact information.  Reach out to me at [email protected] I have a lot to learn from you.

Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More