Millennials: A Volunteer State of Mind?

Posted by Casey Gill Summar, Jun 19, 2014 0 comments

Casey Gill Summar Casey Gill Summar

An Americans for the Arts' colleague recently shared this interesting article claiming that social activism is the “new religion” of the millennial workforce and asked if I felt this was true in my experience building partnerships between arts and business. In full disclosure, I think I’m just outside the millennial generation, but I will say there is something core to this concept of passion and commitment for your cause that drives me and my younger colleagues. We all share the desire to not just donate to a cause, but to contribute time and expertise as well, to bring along all friends, and in short, tell everyone we know how important this cause is to our hearts. I’m definitely guilty of this. You don’t have to spend much time around me to learn that I’m an ardent advocate for the arts, that I love my little transitional neighborhood so much I joined the board of the association, or that I’m a fan of living local right down to my front-yard garden. As the Executive Director of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville since 2012, I have worked to incorporate some of these concepts of volunteerism, meaningful partnership, and first-hand experiences which I desire into our program offerings.

At the core of the Arts & Business Council concept is the idea that volunteerism helps create a more robust, sustainable arts community. Our Volunteer Lawyers & Professionals for the Arts program connects artists and arts nonprofits with skilled volunteers ranging from lawyers to accountants to marketing experts. Since launching this program in 2006, we have never had a problem recruiting volunteers. Whether that’s thanks to the Tennessean’s “Volunteer State” mentality or this shift in generational interests, we’ve found that our professionals have a strong need to connect with the community and use their talents for “good.” In fact, just volunteering on the occasional project isn’t enough for many of these folks. We started receiving a lot of interest from professionals wanting to serve as a board member of an arts nonprofit. We responded in 2012 with our Arts Board Matching program which trains and matches new board members each fall and is thriving.

Beyond these different types of volunteerism, we see an increasing interest among businesses in building more intensive year-round partnerships with the arts that might also include first-hand arts experiences. We’re currently piloting a program called WorkCreative which brings artists into the workplace. They might lead lawyers in poetry writing, create a painting with bankers, or teach improv techniques to a leadership team. We hope that these experiences will demonstrate the value of creativity to businesses and, more importantly, the critical role artists play in creating our vibrant communities. Another example is the Periscope: Artist Entrepreneurship Training we recently built with our world-class Nashville Entrepreneur Center. While we knew our artists would get a lot out of learning a more entrepreneurial mindset, we were delighted to have entrepreneurs in the center excited by learning more from the artistic mindset.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the millennial generation will push us to continue innovating and demanding more meaningful volunteer opportunities and partnerships between arts and businesses.

So what do you think? The possibilities are dynamic and I would love to hear what you’re all seeing in your cities. Are Tennesseans unique in our passion for volunteering and engagement? Will the millennials who are passionate about the arts drive their workplaces to engage in new, strategic, possibly bigger ways? How can our artists and arts organizations help create more authentic partnerships with corporations to engage their employees first-hand? These are all questions we’re working to answer in Nashville and I look forward to continuing the dialogue at the Americans for the Arts Convention in Nashville in June.

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