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The next generations of major philanthropists, who fit into “Gen X” (born 1964-1980) or “Gen Y/Millennial” (born 1981-2000) generational cohorts, will wield more philanthropic power than any previous generation. With an unprecedented amount of wealth, these donors hold the future of philanthropy in their hands, yet, until now, there has been little previous research on the powerful but very private group of young people who stand to become the major donors of the future

Conducted in 2012, this report is based on first-of-its kind data, listening to members of the next generations of major donors, ages 21 to 40, in their own voices. A national online survey (310 total responses) and in-depth interviews (30 total) have revealed four key findings, outlined in the key findings area of this website.

What we have found should help us all be less afraid as this generation takes the reins. They take their roles as major donors seriously. And as they grow into these roles, they are also eager to be taken seriously.

  1. Driven by Values, Not Valuables: Because these next gen donors come from families with wealth and philanthropic resources, are members of generations experiencing rapid social changes, and are currently in important developmental stages of their lives, many readers may expect them to be entitled by privilege, careless with legacy, and eager for change. However, we have discovered quite the opposite. Values drive these next gen major donors, not valuables – values they often say they have learned from parents and grandparents. They are mindful of the privilege they have inherited or that comes with the wealth they are creating. They seek a balance between honoring family legacy and assessing the needs and tools of the day. They fund many of the same causes that their families support and even give locally, so long as that philanthropy fits with their personal values. They give using many of the same methods that their families use, but they want to explore new philanthropic and investing tools as well. They are eager to share in lifting the mantle of responsibility, along with other members of their families, and to put their resources to work for social good. Yet while they feel a commitment to philanthropy that comes from the past, they plan to meet that commitment in somewhat different ways in the future. Most of all, they are ready to be donors – and all that the term entails – now.
  2. Impact First: The word “strategic” is used – probably over-used – in many different ways in the field of philanthropy these days. But these next gen major donors highlight the importance of strategy for the future of the field. They see philanthropic “strategy” as the major distinguishing factor between themselves and previous generations. They intend to change how decisions are made and how research and due diligence are conducted, utilizing multiple sources for information and all of the “tools in the toolbox,” as one of them describes it. They see previous generations as more motivated by a desire for recognition or social requirements, while they see themselves as focused on impact, first and foremost. They want impact they can see, and they want to know that their own involvement has contributed to that impact. They want to use any necessary strategies, assets, and tools – new or old – for greater impact.
  3. Time, Talent, Treasure, and Ties: Once engaged, these next gen major donors want to go “all in.” Giving without significant, hands-on engagement feels to them like a hollow investment with little assurance of impact. They want to develop close relationships with the organizations or causes they support; they want to listen and offer their own professional or personal talents, all in order to solve problems together with those whom they support. They have grown up volunteering, and they still want to offer their time, but in more meaningful ways, not just holding a seat on a gala organizing committee. Like other Gen Xers and Millennials, these next gen donors are highly networked with their peers. They learn about causes and strategies from their peer networks and enjoy sharing their own knowledge and experiences with their peers. They believe that collaborating with peers makes them all better donors, and extends their impact. Put simply, they want to give their full range of their assets – their treasure, of course, but also their time, their talents, and even their ties, encouraging others to give their own time, talent, treasure, and ties.
  4. Crafting Their Philanthropic Identities: As much as they discuss what and how they think about philanthropy and what they definitely want to do when they take over, these next gen major donors are still figuring out who they will be as donors. Many are in their twenties, experiencing a move from adolescence to emerging adulthood and developing a sense of self. All are from high-capacity families, where wealth does not always transfer easily to the next generation, and where many adolescents come of age feeling like children waiting to inherit independence on many levels. And lastly, events and conditions specific to these historical generations have left lasting impressions that must affect how they act as donors. How do you craft a philanthropic identity amid these three forces? Mostly, these donors say, through personal experience. They learn most from seeing and doing, or even hearing from others about their own authentic experiences of seeing and doing. Rather than waiting until the sunset of their lives to decide who they are as philanthropists and what legacies they want to leave, these next gen major donors actively craft their identities now and actively think about their own legacies.The process of identity formation is important to all generations, but the process of philanthropic identity formation among these particular next gen major donors is especially significant for everyone affected by major philanthropy in our society.

This first-of-its-kind research examines the next generation of major donors and studies this crucial group directly, rather than summarizing what others think about them.

This project is a partnership of The Frey Chair for Family Philanthropy program at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, and 21/64, a nonprofit consulting practice specializing in next gen and multigenerational strategic philanthropy. These two organizations, although different in form and scope, share a focus on understanding and improving family philanthropy. The combined effort for this project aims to:

  • Reflect back to these donors what we hear them saying about themselves in order to help them become more proactive donors, stewards, grantmakers, and agents of social change;
  • Encourage and inform conversations among multiple generations involved in philanthropy today and in the future;
  • Help those who seek to engage and assist these next gen donors to do so in more effective and productive ways, to inspire them and help them make change.

Study participants were carefully screened to ensure that they are 21 to 40 years old and that fit study criteria to be considered high-capacity donors. Download the full report for more details.



Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University

The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich. (www.johnsoncenter.org), utilizes a systems-based approach to serve foundations, nonprofits, and others seeking to transform their communities for the public good. One of the largest such university-based centers in the U.S., the Johnson Center operates a comprehensive mix of programs, including the Community Research Institute, The Foundation Review journal, The Grantmaking School, Philanthropic and Nonprofit Services, and the Frey Foundation Chair in Family Foundations and Philanthropy.

The Frey Chair is the nation’s only endowed chair focused on family philanthropy. The Chair works with a network of national partners to pursue a program of applied research, professional development, convening, and public teaching and writing, all designed to advance and promote the field of family philanthropy.




21/64 (www.2164.net) is a nonprofit consulting practice that specializes in next generation and multigenerational strategic philanthropy. Initially founded as a division of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, 21/64 is built on the premise that next generation funders have their own values, visions, and voices to bring to the philanthropic table. As families engage the next, there is an increasing need for clarity, communication, and multigenerational collaboration.

21/64 offers coaching, consulting, speaking, training, and uniquely-developed resource tools to assist families and their advisors during these times of generational transitions, and education to help next gen donors prepare for their imminent responsibilities.

Our Funders

Our funders have shown a strong commitment to family philanthropy and investing in the next generation in many ways over the years. They demonstrate that dedication again through their underwriting of this research. We thank them deeply for helping to make sure this new and useful knowledge now exists, is widely distributed and utilized by the philanthropic community and many other audiences.

Frey Logo color


Thanks to our partners on the Jewish Next Gen Donors report.



Our Partners

The following organizations supported this project, allowing our research team opportunities to access this hard-to-reach group of donors and to disseminate the findings.


While we appreciate the roles each of the above have played in this project, we take full responsibility for the contents of this report.

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