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Getting to Know Your Future Nonprofit Leaders

They’re not looking to disrespect elder donors, and despite inheriting an unprecedented $40 trillion, they do not feel “entitled”, as some would rumor. A new report from 21/64 and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy shows a behind-the-next-generation look at the future leaders of philanthropy and how their giving differs–and remains the same–from their parents and grandparents.

The report, Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy, takes a look at how future major donors, Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials, approach their giving. Based on 310 surveys from successful donors and 30 in-depth individual interviews, the report provides a necessary behind-the-scenes look into these young donors’ intentions. Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64, says that there is speculation that this next generation of donors has a sense of entitlement, but in reality we don’t know much about them at all. This study provides a much-needed look at future donors, showing that next generation donors want very much to be involved with the charities for which they’re contributing a check. In fact, Michael Moody, Ph D., Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations and Philanthropy at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, elaborates that “they want to be more than checkbook donors.”

Through analysis of the survey responses and dozens of candid statements direct from donors, the report reveals:

  • Next generation donors want meaningful, hands-on engagement with the causes that they care about and want to develop close relationships with the organizations they give to, contributing their time and talent as well as their treasure.
  • Next generation donors are highly networked with their peers, learning about causes from trusted friends and sharing philanthropic experiences with peer networks.
  • Next generation donors seek to maintain the difficult balance of respecting the legacy of previous generations and revolutionizing philanthropy for greater impact, aiming to use new, innovative and even risky strategies to make their giving more effective.
  • For next generation donors, philanthropy is a part of who they are; it is not just something they do. They start developing their philanthropic identity from an early age by learning through hands-on experiences and looking to older generations. They are eager for new personal experiences that will help them learn to be better philanthropists. 

Do any of the above come as a surprise? Moody explains that the point of the study and report was to prove theories about the next generation wrong, “We did this study because these generations have the potential to be the most philanthropic generation in history, and we really don’t know much about them individually.” He feels that the report pulls the curtain back on eager and proactive next generation potential donors.

Moody understands where the conjecture about the next generation of donors began in the first place. The presumption is that the next generation would arrive riding on the coat tails on their elders since most are coming from family with high wealth capacity.

However, this report shows that although the next generation of donors come from a wealthy upbringing, it doesn’t mean they plan to sit back and write a check. Instead, they want to get their hands dirty, “they want to be involved and engaged, they want to serve the profession and not just sit on a committee or board, or plan parties,” says Moody. Additionally, they want to be involved in meaningful ways, ways that will give them stature and convince elders to take them seriously. Moody notes that next generation donors partaking in the survey “told us that this is how they learn the most about philanthropy, by being hands-on.”

Because most next generation donors are appearing out of their parents’ and grandparents’ shadows, they know they have big shoes to fill – but they want to fill them differently. “It may be surprising but next geners say they are most influenced by their parents and grandparents in their fundraising efforts. Next gen donors may not be fully rebelling, but they have their own approach,” says Goldseker.

Next generation donors want to give differently, and HOW they give is how they differ from their parents and grandparents. “Strategy and impact comes first for them,” explains Goldseker. The report unveiled that the next generation has a more structured approach to philanthropy opposed to previous ad hoc approaches.

Another trend that the next generation will further develop is collaborative giving. The report shows that they play well with others. “Next gen donors are highly networked. They sharpen their strategic giving with others. They want to share their giving experiences with their peers,” says Goldseker. 

Straight from the horse’s mouth, next generation donor Katherine Lorenz, president of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, tells of her experience growing up in a philanthropic home. “I was invited to my family’s strategic process for the foundation when I was 25,” says Lorenz. From there she moved on to co-found an organization that focuses on indigenous population concentrating on nutrition in agriculture. “I spent time on the ground dealing directly with families in need,” continues Lorenz, furthering the report’s findings that the next generation wants to be more hands-on.

Although the next generation may be privileged with wealth and family experience, it doesn’t mean they will squander their donations. “When I took over the family business, I wanted to make sure we were making the biggest impact for our buck,” says Lorenz.

 Zac Russell, grandson of the founders of The Russell Family Foundation, says that he also had interest in the investment side which was inspired from his grandparent’s legacy in philanthropy. Both next generation donors agree that coming from a family involved with philanthropy doesn’t guarantee you a seat at the board table.

When asked what it was like to go from being the kid in the family to a member of the family’s organization, Lorenz explains, “It’s a difficult transition. The hard part is for older family members to look at you as an individual who has their own passion and skills, opposed to always viewing you like a child.”

Russell adds, “I was always included in the discussions around the dinner table at home, but when the company grew they wanted to have a separate board for the next geners involved and it took some time to work on a succession plan to bridge that gap.”

No matter what your suppositions are regarding the next generation of donors, it’s time to set the record straight, and this report helps to do just that. “The next geners are creatively crafting their identity as donors. Most next gen donors think of philanthropy as who they are and not just what they do. It influences the way they live their lives, not just as major donors but as volunteers and investors,” says Moody.

“We didn’t know much about the next geners before but through this research we have learned a lot and this is a crucial moment for the field of philanthropy to partner, foster and train this next generation of donors,” adds Goldseker.

Whether their philanthropic values came from the dinner table or through their own building of knowledge, the next generation of donors is here. It’s time to get hands-on with Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials–they’re ready, are you? To prepare, check out the full report by 21/64 and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy: Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy.

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