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It might seem odd to say that the rise of a next generation of philanthropists is a “trend,” as the continuity of the philanthropic field relies on successive waves of new donors coming onto the scene as they come of age. But the current cohort of new big donors — Gen Xers and millennials with the capacity for major giving — are not just any emerging generation. All signs point to these donors becoming the most significant philanthropists in history. They will be the leaders of what many philanthropic observers are calling a new “Golden Age of Giving” (Crutchfield, Kanna & Kramer, 2011; Lenkowski, 2007).
The current wave of next gen donors will have unprecedented financial resources to give, both from the new fast fortunes being created by young techies, hedge funders, and others, and from the extraordinary transfer of wealth — an estimated $59 trillion — going on right now within some of the United States’ wealthiest families (Havens & Schervish, 2014). But these donors will also be historically significant because of their zeal for revolutionizing philanthropy through new strategies and innovations that are already starting to shake up our field.
Next gen donors want to transform giving in ways that they hope will finally move the needle on long-standing social challenges. They want to be more focused, more metric-driven, more experimental — all in the hopes of expanding the impact of big giving. They want to do good through impact investing and other new tools, not just through traditional grantmaking.
We see this, for example, in the approach taken by perhaps the most famous “next gen donors”: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. Instead of a traditional foundation, they decided to use a “charitable LLC” — the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — as the primary vehicle for their giving and investments for social good, because this allows them to invest in socially responsible businesses, political initiatives, and other ventures, in addition to making philanthropic gifts.
Next gen donors also want to engage in more hands-on ways with the organizations they support. They want to “go all in” by giving their time and talent, not just their treasure, and in doing so they aim to develop closer, more candid, and long-term relationships with their partners (Goldseker & Moody, 2017).
These revolutionary transformations in major giving will have tremendous implications for everyone in the field, regardless of where you sit around the philanthropic table — as donor, grantmaking staff, trustee, advisor, volunteer, or nonprofit and fundraising professional.
The new Golden Age will really be “golden” if these donors are in fact able to increase the impact of philanthropy on problems we are all concerned about. But achieving this requires us to first better understand these rising donors, and then to engage them in productive ways and — perhaps most important — to help them become the sort of active, diligent, and effective donors they want to be. For they are incredibly eager to learn and to gain experience — now, not later. And the donors they become now, will be the donors they are — in unprecedentedly significant ways — for decades to come.
Crutchfield, L. R., Kanna, J. V. & Kramer, M. R. (2011). Do more than give: The six practices of donors who change the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Goldseker, S. & Moody, M. (2017). Generation impact: How next gen donors are revolutionizing giving. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Havens, J. J. & Schervish, P. G. (2014, May). A golden age of philanthropy still beckons: National wealth transfer and potential for philanthropy technical report. Boston, MA: Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy.
Lenkowsky, L. (2007). Big philanthropy. The Wilson Quarterly, 31(1), 47–51. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrawilson1/2017/11/17/how-billionaires-are-pooling-assets-for-a-gates-led-philanthropy-fund