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How to Solve the Puzzle of Millennial Engagement

July 13, 2015

RubikCube02bFor most people, myself included, trying to solve a Rubik's Cube is laughably impossible. Sure, I can get a few of the colors to line up here or there, but that's about as far as I get.

But here's the thing: Rubik's Cubes are most definitely not impossible to solve. In fact, some people are freakishly good at them. So why can’t I solve them?

Simple: I don't know the tricks. I keep trying to solve them the same way I solve more traditional puzzles instead of recognizing that they're a different beast altogether.

The same holds true for solving the puzzle of millennial engagement. Organizations continue to try to engage millennials by sticking to the same old strategies they've used for fifty years — and then putting it on a Facebook page. But here's the thing: millennial engagement is a different beast altogether — and it's not limited to how technologically savvy you or your organization are or are willing to be.

Whether solving a Rubik's Cube or developing a millennial engagement strategy, each requires the recognition that you're dealing with a new kind of puzzle with its own quirks and tricks. So, what are the tricks for how to solve the millennial engagement puzzle?

At Third Plateau, we spend a lot of our time uncovering these tricks. I'll share three of the most important, which can apply to millennial employees, volunteers, and donors.


Millennials crave openness and access. We (yep, I'm part of that puzzling population) have an inherent distrust of what we can't see, and we embrace situations in which nothing is hidden. We laud open source platforms and largely believe that everyone, everywhere, should have access to everything. Instead of guarding your organizational information or being concerned about how people will react, millennials appreciate transparency and will react best if they are invited into the conversation.

Organization Gut Check: How transparent is your organization?

  • Do you share with all your stakeholders the strategic thinking behind your decisions?
  • Are you open about your organizational mistakes and missteps and the lessons you have learned from them?


Millennials want to build things. We don't always respond well to being told what to do and how to do it. Rather, we thrive when given a challenge and are empowered to solve it. Instead of thinking about solutions having to come top-down, bring the problem statement to your millennials and ask for their help in creating the solution.

Organization Gut Check: Does your organization create opportunities for co-creation?

  • Do you support the intrapraneurs within your organization?
  • Are your volunteers and donors considered thought partners in your work?

Impact Focus

Millennials want to change the world. We are not necessarily motivated by money or power; we are motivated by opportunities to do something meaningful. Whether we are employees, volunteers, or donors, we want to be part of something that actually matters. Instead of engaging millennials by talking about an immediate need, engage them by talking about how that need connects to a larger purpose and impact.

Organization Gut Check: How focused is your organization on impact?

  • Do all of your stakeholder groups know and understand your logic model and theory of change?
  • Does your organization have and evaluate impact-focused metrics at every level of your organization?

Solving the puzzle of millennial engagement is not nearly as hard as you might think. You just have to learn the tricks. As for Rubik's Cubes, you're on your own.

Jonathan-kaufman-sq_smallWant to learn more about solving the millennial engagement puzzle? Join me for "Millennial Engagement: It Ain't Rocket Science", an interactive webinar hosted by Foundation Center, July 16, from 2:00-3:00 pm ET. Come ready to have your mind blown.

Jonathan Kaufman is co-founder and chief nonprofit officer at Third Plateau, a full-service strategy firm.

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