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July 15, 2013

Sharna Goldseker: Philanthropy 2.0


Gotham Magazine

Philanthropy 2.0


Summer 2013

By Sharna Goldseker

A new generation of young philanthropists is poised to transform the world in which both donors and nonprofit organizations operate and ultimately even what we mean by the word “philanthropy.”

Those observations are the findings from a recent study by 21/64, a New York-based consultancy that specializes in working with multigenerational philanthropic families, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. Together, the two groups surveyed nearly 400 donors, all part of either Generation X (those born between 1964-2000) or the Millennial Generation (1980-2000), on their attitudes toward philanthropy and their philanthropic objectives. These donors – a great deal of whom will inherit wealth and philanthropic responsibilities from their parents or grandparents in the decades to come – are “eager to join the family discussion about philanthropy” that will involve more than simply asking fellow family foundation members to consider adding a new organization to their list of recipients, says Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64.

While the demise of hospital wings, museum galleries, and college libraries named in honor of particularly generous donors may still be some way off, expect the up and coming generation of philanthropists to opt for less flashy and more personally meaningful and transformative giving. Goldseker explains, “The next generation is interested in issues and finding a way to have a real, measurable impact.”

New York resident Zac Russell – a 25-year old scion of the Tacoma, Washington family that founded Russell Investments – says his goal is to put his own stamp on the way the family foundation thinks and operates. “I’m the squeaky wheel,” he says, with a laugh. That doesn’t mean he is ignoring family tradition: He says his grandparents and parents have always been just as committed to effective philanthropy as he is. But the younger Russell says he tends t o tussle with his parents and other foundation members of their generation to think more internationally. “In part, that’s because I’m now a New Yorker with global horizons,” he adds. Russell is also interested in finding new ways to ensure that giving has an impact. “There are new tools out there being created every day that we could be using to do a lot more with less output. That’s what I’m interested in discovering.”

Philanthropy is becoming at once more strategic and more personal than ever before, with younger donors likely to favor causes and organizations that will welcome their hands-on engagement, not just their names on a board and attendance at a fundraising gala. Instead of underwriting a hospital wing, look for a next-generation donor to identify a particular disease to which he or she feels a personal connection and one that experts believe is on the verge of a research breakthrough. Moreover, they are more likely to demand evidence that their largesse is paying off.

The emerging generation of philanthropists also appears to be an impatient one, unwilling to sit idly by for the next decade or two, playing a token role in their families’ foundations. Russell points out that he and others of his generation don’t just want to be partners in their families’ philanthropy, but equal partners. “We’ve been watching for a long time; we aren’t going anywhere, and we’re prepared for this,” he says. They want to make philanthropy part of the way they live today, rather than wait until the end of their lives to make their mark, as the first American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, did.

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