Revolution in next gen philanthropy

Nate PetersenBook Reviews

Canada’s next generation of major donors is dramatically different from their parents and grandparents. Imagining philanthropists as wealthy business tycoons in smoking jackets and pearls is an increasingly outdated stereotype. Instead, they are a highly relational group of individuals who are culturally geared towards innovation, entrepreneurship, and social change. The zeitgeist of the 21st century has destabilized social systems like education, housing, work, and retirement as they have failed to stay current in the new interconnected reality of the digital age. This shift is shaking up how young donors interact with money and what problems they dream to solve. While their elders were excited by the prospect of supporting large institutions that reinforced the status quo, Gen X and Millennial donors are recognizing the importance of creative, local, grassroots initiatives that report back on the actual impact of their donors’ contributions.

Young people today have been called “the brokest generation”, or if you fancy yourself an optimist, “the cheapest generation”. Stifled by high housing prices, student debt, and a stark economic future, they’re living in a culture that is increasingly cooperative by necessity. The narrative that most people expected to live out 30-70 years ago doesn’t have the same pizazz that it used to. There is no assuredness that a degree will get you a job or that buying a house is a good investment, but there is a deep sense that we are all in this together. As the economic reality around young donors continues to evolve, they are going to have to redefine what philanthropy looks like in their new social landscape.

Shauna Goldseker and Michael Moody’s book Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors are Revolutionizing Giving looks at the style, interests, and intentions of 17 emerging philanthropists who share their perspectives on the third sector. The authors assert that there is a philanthropic revolution under way as the coming decades will see the largest transfer of wealth in human history. They want the charitable world to be aware of this dramatic change and be prepared to engage with younger donors that will think and act differently than previous generations.

So, who are these next gen donors and what are they all about? Goldseker and Moody say,

These rising donors want to disrupt giving strategies, much like young tech entrepreneurs have disrupted business…These rising donors also want to be bolder and more experimental; some might even say brazen. They want their tool belts to contain more than just grants and gifts. They are pushing for more impact investing and trying out microloans, giving circles, crowdfunding, and other nontraditional funding methods that blur the classic lines between for-profit and nonprofit ventures—all in the name of greater impact. Next gen donors want to go all in with the organizations they support, giving talent rather than just treasure, building more intimate relationships, and working closely as partners who share in the subsequent challenges and successes. They are, frankly, more high maintenance than their predecessors. But they say this makes them better donors who get better results.

There is a sense of urgency that is galvanizing young people to act in whatever way they can to rebuild the world around them. For young donors, this means that they care less about the status and prestige that has accompanied philanthropy in the past, and care more about the impact of their investments. In order to make a great impact, Goldseker and Moody found that, “Most next gen donors we studied are exceedingly respectful of the philanthropic shoes they’re stepping into; they’re not bomb-throwers.”

We are entering the Golden Age of giving that will eclipse the Gilded Age investors’ impact that defined the 20th century. Although these new philanthropists have different priorities than previous generations, they still respect many of the same initiatives, such as health care, education, and basic needs. Although the language and research surrounding this shift uses ‘age’ as its defining feature, the reality is that ‘age’ is not its cornerstone, cooperation is. A relational mindset that is disenfranchised by the state of our society is the new philanthropic norm. This new generation is more interested in hearing hard truths than operating under fine-tuned pleasantries that stifle real and meaningful engagement. They’re hungry for impact and they’re ready to get their hands dirty.

At Stronger Philanthropy, we’re researching pathways for engagement for this new generation. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to stay connected to where we’re going. To learn more about the priorities of this next generation of givers, buy Goldseker and Moody’s book here.