A Publication of WTVP

GEN U provides young professionals with opportunities to make an impact.

Nonprofit organizations, regardless of their current success, must consistently invigorate their work with new opportunities to expand their base of support. During generational shifts, this becomes even more important. Successful nonprofits have been able to cultivate the baby boom generation as donors and volunteers. Yet, as this generation retires, it is imperative that nonprofit organizations harness the philanthropic energy of the next generation of community leaders… the millennial generation.

As the largest generation, millennials do not gravitate towards standard models of fundraising and volunteer engagement. Engaging young professionals in the workplace and in the community requires a fundamentally different approach than what has worked in the past.

In 2009, the Heart of Illinois United Way created our young professionals’ organization, GENeration United (GEN U), to meet these trends. With two primary goals, GEN U focuses on increasing and expanding our United Way’s volunteer and donor base while providing local companies a simple and effective way to engage younger employees. Run by millennials, for millennials, GEN U provides young professionals with the community impact they want: opportunities to provide hands-on support to organizations, see the impact of their work, and take a leadership role in implementing change.

Annually, GEN U volunteers provide more than 1,200 hours of volunteer support to local agencies by staffing fundraising events, delivering gifts to home-bound seniors, planting community gardens and much more. In addition, GEN U members have created two volunteer-led efforts to provide Heart of Illinois United Way partner agencies with support in the areas of middle-school reading skills and financial literacy for young adults.

Having recognized the need for younger and diverse perspectives on area boards of directors, GEN U offers BoardSERVE. Over the course of two evenings each spring and fall, area nonprofit and business leaders provide BoardSERVE attendees with training on nonprofit management that equips them with knowledge on how to best serve on area nonprofit committees and boards of directors.

GEN U has also had a large financial impact on the Heart of Illinois United Way, raising more than $180,000 for its Community Impact Fund through fun, monthly events like “Burgers and Bingo,” or Mad Dash and Snowball Masquerade, the group’s annual fundraisers.

In addition, GEN U has been helpful to local companies looking to get their younger employees more involved in the community. Millennials consistently rate a company’s philanthropic and volunteer initiatives as a top motivation for selecting an employer and remaining employed. Many area companies have encouraged their employees to participate in GEN U activities, which have resulted in greater visibility for their brand, a more engaged workforce and opportunities for professional development.

By providing young professionals the opportunity to connect, serve and lead in central Illinois, GEN U members see how the United Way works firsthand. They can feel our dedication to the community, experience the tremendous work being done by our partner agencies and become the next generation who will continue to give back to their community in impactful, knowledgeable ways. iBi