The Future of Philanthropy 

by Richard Tollefson

A new era of philanthropy, nonprofit governance and social change is upon us. Why, how and where the next generation of philanthropists give and engage is drastically changing in America and reshaping how nonprofits do business. To optimize the potential and impact of next-gen leaders, nonprofits must understand that leadership is more than money — although the wealth of this generation and its philanthropic potential is enormous as millennials are due to inherit $30 to $70 trillion from their baby boomer parents.

The Long Beach (California) Community Foundation recently brought a panel of millennial and xennial social change agents to discuss the Future of Philanthropy. Their observations and recommendations hold true for communities around the world.

“Charitable giving and community leadership are changing,” said Marcelle Epley, president and CEO of the Long Beach Community Foundation. Organizations will need to adapt and make way for younger leaders, board member and donors driven by a global sense of responsibility. 

“We want to impact our neighborhoods and kids’ schools, our communities, the world,” said Sumer Temple, vice president of the Don Temple Family Charitable Foundation. “While we may have many of the same morals and values as our parents, we want to do things our way, to make change how we think is best.” Often, the way they give is through volunteerism and active involvement, not just donating money. 

Tasha Hunter, business and cultural consultant, said younger donors want their donations of time to be recognized as something meaningful and tangible. “We need to understand the importance of time, in addition to money, and quantify the value of that time and expertise.” 

A Lifestyle, Not an Obligation of Privilege

“We are demanding social change and social impact in very explicit ways,” said Sentari Minor, social impact thought leader and brand and positioning expert. Organizations are increasingly called upon to demonstrate their commitment to DEI in how they serve their communities and recruit and engage board members and donors.

Compared to prior generations, younger donors are driven by “social consumerism,” often focusing their giving on urgent, immediate needs that directly impact the social issues they prioritize. “Our generation seeks to help as best we can today,” said Amanda Johnson, owner of Yellow Truck Investments. “Philanthropy is not part of our retirement plan; it’s part of our work life and our family life; it’s part of our every day.”

Shaking Up the Board Room

Nonprofit boards need to think differently and recognize that board membership is no longer just for name recognition, status and how much money one can give. In addition to including more idea-generators and problem-solvers, boards need to engage younger members, listen to their ideas, and align their activities around meaningful, positive social impact.

5 Key Success Factors for Next-Gen Engagement 

It’s more than just money. But don’t forget the money. The adage of “time, treasure and talent” comes into play with next-gen leaders. It’s important to help donors and board members understand how best to contribute all three. But don’t forget the money. While this group’s discretionary income may be limited right now, they are on the verge of having huge financial resources under their control and becoming the richest generation in American history. 

It’s a lifestyle — not a duty. For many, social activism and community engagement is a lifestyle that drives spending habits, professional and personal activities, and more. Don’t assume next-gen leaders compartmentalize their activism; rather, assume they live it every day.

Engagement and accessibility. Younger donors and board members want to be a part of the decision-making process. Allowing members flexibility — to attend meetings virtually, participate in activities meaningful to them, take a more “curated” approach to board engagement, and meet the expectations of membership in customized ways — should be considered when recruiting and engaging younger donors and board members, resulting in greater involvement and participation.

Mutual respect. It’s important for board members to realize they can learn from younger generation leaders who have professional and life experiences and perspectives that are different and valuable. There needs to be a true sense of mutual respect, understanding that everyone has something to offer. 

Pass the baton. Existing donors and board members need to share their experiences and help educate their successors while being open to hearing and learning from the ideas of their new solution-oriented next-gen peers.   

Richard Tollefson is founder and president of The Phoenix Philanthropy Group, an Arizona-based international consulting firm serving nonprofit organizations as well as institutional and individual philanthropists.

Did You Know: The wealth and philanthropic potential of the millennial generation is enormous as they are due to inherit $30 to $70 trillion from their baby boomer parents.

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