Generational Viewpoints: Different ways to make a difference

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This edition of Generational Viewpoints features two professionals from Sweeney Conrad PS, a 70-person firm located in Bellevue, Wash. We asked Baby Boomer administrative assistant Karen Allison and Millennial audit associate Andrew Whitman to share their perspectives on the following question:

“How do Baby Boomers and Millennials approach altruism and philanthropy similarly or differently?”

Allison’s Boomer Viewpoint

When I first started working after college, we had some limits in our ability to connect groups of people, and coordinating volunteer opportunities was no easy task. We believed in giving back and participating in charitable causes, but with limited methods of communication, and very little interest on the part of most employers, volunteering was typically done on our own time. At both of my earliest jobs, we were encouraged to donate to charities through payroll deduction, and although there were some company activities to raise additional funds, support was very limited. It was viewed as a “to do” versus “I want to do.”

Eventually, mindsets shifted from strictly fundraising to more hands-on participation. I believe our ability to communicate electronically helped spur this transition. When I stepped out of the workforce for many years to raise children, I was able to participate in causes near to my heart. As an added benefit, I met wonderful people, many of whom are still friends today. These philanthropic activities throughout my life have taken me outside of my comfort zone and my ZIP code, and I love seeing the ease with which my younger friends make the transition today.

Now I work at Sweeney Conrad, where work and volunteering go hand-in-hand. I’m thrilled that the firm is an active participant in Food Lifeline’s annual Food Frenzy. We raise funds within the firm, we sort food at the warehouse, and we also head to the warehouse during times of high demand for volunteers. We really feel we are making a difference there. Over a year ago, the firm created the Sweeney Conrad Charitable Action Giving Group and the decision was made to support Hopelink by participating in their holiday Giving Room. We prepared and served meals at their transitional housing location and have sponsored various fundraising events. In addition, Sweeney Conrad compensates us to volunteer for a certain number of hours per year for the cause of our choice.

I occasionally find myself once again outside my comfort zone when taking on a new volunteer opportunity at an unfamiliar location. However, I now have ample technology making my life and volunteering easier. Despite all the advancements, though, it is often the personal touch, person-to-person, that makes my time volunteering most treasured.

Whitman’s Millennial View

Millennials often get a bad rep — we’re viewed as self-absorbed and entitled. While this may be the case in some instances, philanthropy has played a very important role in many of our lives.

As a high school student, many classmates joined me on weekend and evening volunteer opportunities. Though some might view this as selfishly attempting to improve our college prospects, these kind-hearted and selfless projects ended up being a lot of fun for everyone! As we progressed, many college groups had volunteer-hour requirements that kept that giving spirit alive.

I believe Millennials have grown up with greater opportunities to actively contribute to the community and to causes than past generations may have had. For us, philanthropy has multiple facets and is not necessarily just a charitable tax deduction. Many Millennials don’t have the financial freedom to give substantial charitable contributions yet, and instead may focus more on face-time and hands-on volunteer activities. One of the things I love most about volunteering is the social aspect. I’ve met many amazing people through these experiences, which helps me to network as I begin my career. Additionally, being involved has developed my leadership and organizational skills tremendously. There are often opportunities to lead or coordinate pieces of a volunteer initiative, which help build these skills. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to become a founding member of the Sweeney Conrad Charitable Action Giving Group. As a member, I’ve had a say in selecting a charity that Sweeney Conrad can develop a relationship with to strengthen and benefit our community. We chose Hopelink, and as a part of the SC Charitable Action Giving Group, I’ve been able to help coordinate and volunteer in the Hopelink Gift Room as well as prepare and serve dinner at their transitional housing center with my coworkers.

Millennials are often the first to be called “entitled,” and yet we were raised with the belief that to get far in life, sometimes you must give up your own personal time for a good cause. To speak frankly, what generation of 20-somethings wasn’t called entitled by their preceding generation? As I progress in my career, I hope that I can be like many of my more experienced Sweeney Conrad coworkers who still put in the time and effort to volunteer for charitable causes.

This column is facilitated and edited by Brianna Johnson, the Millennial consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner, of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. To have your firm’s generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail them at brianna@convergencecoaching.com.

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