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July 16, 2013

Enlightened Philanthropy: Honoring Generational Personalities


Enlightened Philanthropy

Honoring Generational Personalities


July 16, 2013

By Deborah Goldstein

In my last post, I shared an epiphany I had while reading the Next Gen Donors research. Essentially, I realized I’m a member of Next Gen.

That wasn’t the only epiphany I had that night on the airplane. Because I’m a member of Gen X, not only do I think about philanthropy differently, my perspective of the world is different than members of other generations. This was later reinforced in the 21/64 training (the reason I was on the plane in the first place) when we reviewed generational personalities. I had been hearing about the difference in generations for the past few years in the fundraising world, however it wasn’t until that night, sitting scrunched in my seat, that it all clicked.

The majority of people I speak with about my philanthropic advising business are members of the Baby Boomer generation. We hold different values and traits based on what we experienced during our formative years. And, we view philanthropy differently. I honor these viewpoints in my work.

There are some commonalities of course: we are motivated by our values and feel an obligation to give back. However, we give to some different types of organizations, we give in different ways, and we engage in philanthropy differently. Neither way is right or wrong, it’s just different. Again, the Next Gen Donors research illuminates these findings.

We forget, but we are constantly interacting with multiple generations, whether within our own families, our place of work, or the clients we advise. Understanding what events and conditions were in motion as the generations were coming of age and as a result, what values and traits are part of the generation’s constitution help us navigate these interactions with greater awareness. Here’s how you can get started thinking about generational perspectives:


  1. What world events took place when you were growing up?  Traditionalists were born between 1925-1945. Baby Boomers were born between 1946-1964. Members of Generation X were born between 1965-1980 and Gen Y or Millenials were born between 1981-1999. How did these events shape who you are? What values might you hold because of these events?
  2. How might the other generations differ from yours? How does that impact your interactions with colleagues or clients? Take a look at these slides to see what shaped the generations. Also view quick clips from authors Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman (When Generations Collide) about their research into generations in the workplace.
  3. How do these events and values and traits apply to your philanthropy? Has your philanthropy been shaped by the events you’ve experienced in your life? Do these values appear in your giving?


This awareness of how our generational and philanthropic perspectives differ allows us to work more effectively with other generations. For me, I am better able to serve multiple generations, developing an understanding and appreciation within families of these same perspectives. I can use my unique position, between the two largest generations of our time, to facilitate important multi-generational family philanthropy conversations.

As I sat in my seat, lost in thought, mulling the importance of these epiphanies, I was even more excited to embark on a new adventure with 21/64. This research helped clarify my own thinking and provided me with a new language for discussing my work with different audiences. I’m excited about how generations can work together to forge a new future for philanthropy.

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