Next Gen Donors: Who Are They?

I’m pleased to announce the release of the first episode in a four week series called Shaping the Future of Philanthropy: Voices from Next Gen Donors. The series was created as part of a collaboration between GrantCraft, 21/64, and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University based on research released earlier this year and our related GrantCraft analysis.

In this episode, we learn what characteristics, values, and mentalities shape next generation donors, and how research was conducted to learn about this group’s giving tendencies. As an active member of the philanthropy community who identifies as part of the subject demographic, I thought I’d share some of my own observations about who we are.

The next generation, Millennials and Generation X – 21-40 year olds – doesn’t always want to identify as such. We’ve gotten a bad rap as being lazy, narcissistic, online time-wasters with a knack for twerking and feelings of entitlement. However, like the donors interviewed for our podcast and for the related report, I am proud to identify as a member of the next generation; along with these giving peers, I am hopeful that I can help prove those stereotypes wrong.

This next generation respects generations before us; we want to learn from their experiences, build on their set of values, and celebrate their style. We also feel the weight of responsibility: the economic downturn, increasing education and opportunity gaps worldwide, and rampant injustice formed the context of the world we entered as adults and one that we have been tasked to improve through ethical business, smart governance, and active citizenship. We ask many questions because of this responsibility; it’s not to be adversarial, but rather to be thoughtful and informed.

In the philanthropic context specifically, this means we’re pushing the same nonprofits to be more transparent and shoot for more rigorous objectives. We’re emphasizing the drive towards impact and improved evaluation rather than simply wanting to provide friendly support. My peers are using their personal identities and skill sets to identify locally-based initiatives that are in line with both their personal and foundation missions and showing their support. We want to build off of the incredible contributions of past philanthropy and also apply a level of rigor and innovation to our philanthropic gifts that hasn’t previously been a part of the giving process.

I’ll end with a personal anecdote: My family began a tradition when my cousins and I were young where every Hanukkah, each family member individually recommends a charitable cause for a group donation. In making the recommendation, each person shares a bit about why they like the program or organization. We ultimately draw one out of a hat, and this selection becomes an organization that we all give to and learn more about that year. In our yearly “giving circle”, we see evidence of shared values with gifts and repetition across generations, but especially as the cousins have gotten older, justifications for recurring organizations beyond just legacy support; there has been a shift towards discussing need and merits of specific programs rather than just supporting the overall mission.

As you listen to the episode, think about who you picture when you think of next generation donors. Do you know any? What advice would you want to tell them? What do you anticipate learning from them? Share any thoughts on the episode or these questions in the comments of this blog.

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Director of Stakeholder Engagement