‘Next Gen Donors’ demand to see results
By Susan Swan Smith
April 30, 2014
As the Greatest Generation and the baby boomers hand off the baton to younger generations, some people wonder what will happen next with philanthropy.
After all, Gen Xers have long been branded in pop culture as skeptics and cynics. Gen Y and millennials have an even worse reputation as overcoddled kids who expect everything and give little in return.
But like so many commonly held beliefs, these aren’t true. A recent study shows that younger donors are just as willing as their parents and grandparents to give back to the community. They’re just doing it in slightly different ways.
Produced by 21/64, a nonprofit consulting firm, and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, the report “Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy” looks for the first time at how 21- to 40-year-olds from wealthy families feel about philanthropy. With trillions of dollars starting to pass from baby boomers to their heirs in the coming years, the study has major implications for the future of philanthropy in the 21st century.
For starters, the report shows that next-generation donors want to be more hands-on with the groups, charities and organizations to whom they give money. Where their parents may have been happy to send a check to a charity they’d heard good things about, today’s young philanthropists want close relationships with the organizations they support.
They want to partner with groups and offer their personal talents to help solve a problem. Like others their age, Next Gen donors are highly networked with their peers and want to encourage others to give their time and money to the same causes they believe in.
And they want to choose those causes through personal experience, at an earlier age. Instead of waiting until the sunset of their lives to figure out what legacies they want to leave, Next Gen donors are proactive about seeing and doing as much as they can so they can craft their philanthropic identities and imprint their social values right now.
But perhaps the biggest take-away from the study is that Gen Xers and Gen Y-millennials demand to see a difference from their donations. They view themselves as being intensely focused on what kind of meaningful impact they can have. They’re all about “impact investing.” They want to be able to see the impact, not just hear about it.
At Communities Foundation of Texas, we’ve worked with families for more than 60 years and have seen firsthand how attitudes often change from one generation to the next. We also know how important it is for families to work together to empower young philanthropists and create a long-running legacy. That’s one reason why we recently launched the Generations of Generosity Center for Family Philanthropy. It’s the perfect way to engage multiple generations in giving and to help one generation teach the next about getting involved in the community.
According to the “Next Gen Donors” study, older generations are already doing an excellent job of passing the torch. Younger donors report they often share the same values and fund the same causes their parents and grandparents did. And while they use new, Web-based tools to reach their philanthropic goals, they often donate through the same methods their families use.
No matter how old you are or what social values you embrace, I hope you believe like I do that philanthropy is the bedrock on which our community is built and the source of so much hope and opportunity for so many people. Generations come and go, but the power of philanthropy is timeless.
Susan Swan Smith is chief relationship officer of Communities Foundation of Texas and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.