Understanding Generational Differences in your New Members

Recruiting and working with new members requires an understanding about why they get involved and stay involved. Increasing your knowledge about the four living generations in the United States population will give you insight into membership retention. It is helpful to understand general characteristics, but important to remember that each individual is unique and should not be judged or stereotyped based solely on these generational traits.

Veterans (born between 1909 and 1945)
  • Have a sense of accomplishment and strong sense of self
  • Are motivated by their pride in knowing what they can accomplish
  • Act to take charge, make decisions and delegate responsibility
  • Operate in a command-and-control decision-making system – may translate to others as “having all the answers”
Boomers (born 1945 – 1965)
  • Get involved because it is the right thing to do, because one should give back to their community
  • Hold a strong sense of hope
  • Value tradition, teamwork and loyalty
  • Have time to give to volunteer, as many women stayed home to raise a family
Generation X (born 1965 – 1980)
  • Drawn to opportunities that offer them opportunities to learn, enjoy, and be recognized
  • Have been described as tough to motivate, too expectant, lazy, skeptics and loners
  • Describe themselves as caring, committed and seeking opportunities for learning and leadership
  • Value frequent feedback on their performance, recognition, increased responsibility and exposure to decision-makers
  • Attracting and retaining these members will depend upon an organization’s ability to be flexible, adaptive and responsive to their needs.
Generation Y (born 1980 – 1994)
  • Most valued traits are individuality and uniqueness
  • Have a global and diverse perspective that other generations did not have
  • Can be cynical and driven by a need for instant gratification
  • Strengths are their adaptability, innovativeness, efficiency, resiliency, tolerance and commitment
  • Challenge is motivating them to get involved and retaining them for a sustained period
  • To engage this group, organizations need to tell the truth, explain the why, tune in to their frequency, make them a star, and look for rewarding opportunities


Chester, E. (2001, June). Employing Generation Why: Strategies for Successfully Working with Your New Labor Force. Session presented at the meeting of Society for Human Resource Management, San Francisco, CA.

Cozzalio, D. (n.d.) Meet Generation Y. College of the Siskiyous News Columns. Retrieved December 17, 2002

Mauer, J.J. (2000) Generations Provide Insight Into Volunteer Motivations. American Society of Association Executives Chapter Relations Newsletter. Retrieved July 5, 2002, from http://www.asaenet.org/sections/chapter/article/1,2261,50963,00.html.

Merrill Associates. (2000). Gen X Volunteers. Retrieved December 17, 2002 fromhttp://www.merrillassoc.com/Topics/genx.html.

Neuborne, E Kerwin, K. (1999) Generation Y. Businessweek Online. Retrieved December 17, 2002 from http://www.businessweek.com:/1999/99_07/b3616001.htm?scriptFramed.

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