By Michael Moody, Ph.D., Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy
January 28, 2013

It has taken many long hours – and hundreds of emails – to get to this point, but we finally, officially, proudly launched the “Next Gen Donors” report at the Council on Foundations Family Philanthropy conference in San Jose this past weekend. This launch represents the culmination of more than a year of data gathering, analysis, writing, and preparation, all in order to provide first-of-its-kind, much-needed research about the next generation of major donors – a group that just might turn out to be the most significant philanthropists in history.

The Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy program at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy teamed with the experts on multigenerational philanthropy at 21/64 to conduct this study. We sought insight about Gen X and Gen Y/Millennial donors who have the capacity for significant giving, both now and in the future. We asked questions about how they want to engage as donors, how they are learning about philanthropy, what they are excited about for their future, and how they see themselves as different from previous donor generations.

The report and other information on the project is available at www.nextgendonors.org. But releasing the report, launching the website, and presenting findings in two sessions at the conference is just the beginning of our planned efforts to make this research widely used and useful to the field of family philanthropy.

We want to start a conversation about #nextgendonors that continues for months to come.

We discovered many intriguing things about these fascinating young donors. For one, while they are very eager to change how philanthropy operates, they don’t reject the past. In fact, they take their roles as stewards of their families’ philanthropic legacy very seriously, and they credit their parents and grandparents with instilling in them the value of giving back that now drives their emerging activities as young donors.

Make no mistake, though, they are open to change, even eager to take risks with new innovations and approaches, from impact investing to funding non-traditional or smaller organizations. Most significantly, they want to be engaged in more meaningful, hands-on ways. They want to develop close relationships with groups they support, to work alongside these groups and use their skills to help solve problems. And they want to be more intensively peer-oriented in their philanthropy – to give with, share information among, and learn from the experiences of their peers. They are not just DIY (Do It Yourself) but DIO (Do It Ourselves).

In short, the challenge facing next gen donors is to find a way to – as our report title puts it – respect legacy while also revolutionizing philanthropy.

The response from the audiences at the Council conference in San Jose confirms our expectation that people concerned with family philanthropy – from donors to staff to advisors to community foundations – are hungry for this sort of research about this important group. People have been asking us for more details from the study, for drill downs into the data that frankly we haven’t even thought of doing yet. And many people are looking to convert this information into tips and guidance to meet their particular challenge in working with these Gen X and Millennial donors – either as members of their own families, trustees they serve, or new donors they want to engage and assist.

This is why we’ve thought of this initial launch as just the start of a conversation, and the first stage in a longer process of both improving our understanding of these next gen donors and helping all of us improve giving by these major donors of the future.

Now we ask for ideas, assistance, and participation to help continue the conversation and take the next steps.

We are proud to announce that GrantCraft, a joint project of the New York-based Foundation Center and the Brussels-based European Foundation Centre, has already produced one of their respected guides using material from this research. We would love to work with others to create more new products like this, to reach and assist more audiences.

Please go to our website to offer your own reactions, experiences, and new ideas under “Speak Up and Learn More.” Contact us to propose new phases to this project or new products we can create. Tweet your reflections and ideas using #nextgendonors.

Established in 1992 with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy promotes effective philanthropy, community improvement, and excellence in nonprofit leadership through teaching, research, and service. The Johnson Center is recognized for its applied research and professional development benefiting practitioners and nonprofits through its Community Research Institute, Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations and Philanthropy, The Foundation Review, The Grantmaking School, Johnson Center Philanthropy Archives and Library, and Nonprofit Services

Grand Valley State University is a four-year public university. It attracts more than 24,500 students with high quality programs and state-of-the-art facilities. Grand Valley is a comprehensive university serving students from all 83 Michigan counties and dozens of other states and foreign countries. Grand Valley offers 81 undergraduate and 29 graduate degree programs from campuses in Allendale, Grand Rapids and Holland, and from regional centers in Muskegon and Traverse City. The university is dedicated to individual student achievement, going beyond the traditional classroom experience, with research opportunities and business partnerships. Grand Valley employs more than 1,900 people and is committed to providing a fair and equitable environment for the continued success of all.

The Johnson Center receives ongoing support from the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation,Dyer-Ives Foundation, Frey Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

For more information, contact Robert Shalett, communications director for the Johnson Center, at 616-331-7585.

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