Jonathan Fitzgarrald and i started speaking about the generational divide several years ago. Our primary focus was on how the law firms, by not passing on leadership rolls to the younger generations, were putting themselves at risk, as their clients had already made the generational shift.

As time passed, and we began speaking at other conferences beyond legal marketing, we began to discuss the shifts within our firms.

So. Millennials. What are we going to do about  the Millennials? Aren’t we all asking the same question?

I had my own recent experience that I want to raise to the level of a warning to us all. My marketing manager left us to work for the do-good-work start-up where she had been volunteering. She felt she could balance her corporate life by doing good outside of work. Until they offered her “enough” money to join them full-time.

We already know that Millennials are not driven by the all-mighty dollar. We also know that they want a work-life balance that doesn’t necessarily include making as much money as the Joneses, or the equity partners in their firms. One of the characteristics of Millennials is their want and need to do good and to help others. According to “The Millennial Impact Project,” sponsored by the Case Foundation:

  1. Millennials engage with causes to help other people, not institutions.
  2. Millennials are influenced by the decisions and behaviors of their peers.
  3. Millennials treat their time, money, and assets as having equal value.
  4. Millennials need to experience the cause’s work without having to be on-site.

From The Millennial Impact Report:

55% of Millennials were influenced to take their job after discussing cause work in their interview.

It’s not enough that the law firm sponsors the right organizations. For one generation, donating to your local PBS station, or writing a check to the ACLU was enough. Hey, they didn’t even feel the need to fill the annual table of ten.

We are going to have to do better … and this is where the rift will come between the Boomers and the Millennials: We need to invest resources of time and money into community projects that will help people, not just institutions.

One solution is to create a strategic corporate philanthropy program:

Six in ten Millennials say “a sense of purpose” is part of the reason they choose to work for their employers and 72% say a job that makes an impact is important to their happiness.

Kinda hard to provide a job that makes an “impact” when we represent the interests of corporate America, really rich people, and sometimes the bad guys … and expecting everyone to bill 1800 – 2200+ hours per year, not including firm-contribution hours.

Corporate America figured this out many years ago. Sure, the strategic corporate philanthropy has been primarily focused on sponsoring run walks, and other big-tent events where you can invite clients. However, with a few tweaks, these programs can be used to recruit, engage, and retain Millennials. And do good in our local communities, as well as abroad.

Law firms have never been ones to lead, but the amount of money we are investing in recruiting, training, and retaining associates shouldn’t go to waste when they quit once the last of their student loan is paid off. We can and should come up with our own signature programs that will provide the sense of purpose this generation craves. It might actually do all of us GenXers and Boomers some good as well.