A New Generation Redefines Philanthropy

Lori Halley 22 May 2015 0 comments

This month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival Host, Erik Anderson (DonorDreams Blog) asked us to watch Katherine Fulton’s TED Talk video “You are the future of philanthropy“, as inspiration for a submission to his May Carnival round-up.

During the presentation (which I highly recommend), Katherine Fulton noted:

“We have a problem. Our experience to date both individually and collectively hasn’t prepared us for what we’re going to need to do or who we’re going to need to be. We’re going to need a new generation of citizen leaders willing to commit ourselves to growing and changing and learning as rapidly as possible.”

The video was powerful and very thought-provoking. Fulton offers up a vision of philanthropy – what it is and could be, and helps us “reimagine the future of philanthropy”. She noted that even back when foundations were just being started, these were actually “reinventing charity in those times.” But after watching it, I feel I have to state the obvious:

Change is inevitable.
Change can be a good thing.
But change is hard.

I agree wholeheartedly that we DO "need a new generation of citizen leaders". And there is no doubt that a new generation of philanthropists will do things very differently. But I’m confident that the digital native generation of Millennials will figure out how to optimize the "convergence of forces" that Fulton outlines in her presentation.

These forces are “changing how we help those in need”

The reality is that these “forces” such as “social crowdfunding [are] changing how we help those in need.” And as the speakers on a recent TV discussion noted, “Charity [is Going] Viral”  – with crowdfunding apparently “doubling every year” with projections “for 2015 between $10 billion to $20 billion globally”.

Welcome to the new philanthropic Zeitgeist

Yes philanthropy is definitely changing radically. But as Jeff Brooks suggested in a recent post, it’s really all about our “willingness to change”; our “ability to change” and “clarity about what needs to change.”

Just as we Boomers questioned “the establishment” in our youth, there is no doubt that the Millennial generation is also “redefining the culture” and a new way of thinking about philanthropy. As research, such as the annual Millennial Impact Report (by Achieve and the Case Foundation), has confirmed, this generation is interested in:

  • engaging with causes to help other people, not institutions
  • supporting issues rather than organizations
  • performing smaller actions before fully committing to a cause

I’m sure you’re getting tired of hearing about Millennials and how differently they see the world than we Boomers do. But I don’t believe we have an insurmountable “generation gap” going on.

There’s no question that the changes taking place will seem disruptive to those donors, staff and volunteers that are accustomed to bricks and mortar organizations and face-to-face fundraising. After all, my generation grew up in the post-war era where we experienced the growth of the big business machine. This led us to think about philanthropy in a business-like way. I personally spent my early career working at large, very bureaucratic nonprofits and charities. And my generation initiated new techniques, such as peer-to-peer and door-to-door campaigns, telethons, lotteries, rides and walks for causes. All of these were unheard of during our parent’s era.

Welcoming “a new generation of citizen leaders”

But today's reality offers a very interesting dichotomy where the so-called “selfie” or “me” generation of Millennials actually prefer to participate in crowdfunding or crowd-sourced charitable giving and community support. This is because they feel comfortable in their online community and value peer sharing, peer recommendations and generally, are looking for "social proof."

But one key difference we keep hearing about is the Millennials’ need for immediate gratification. What I think this translates into in philanthropic terms, is a desire for transparency. They want to see how their donations of time, resources or money are having an impact. And after my experiences with large, staid charitable organizations, I think as Katherine Fulton suggested, moving towards a philanthropy model that is “Open, Big, Fast  and Connected” sounds good to me.

Willing to change?

Getting back to Jeff Brooks' ideas, I think we have a “willingness to change” the philanthropy model, but to keep all of the generations happy and involved, we need to be sure there is clarity about what this change means and how fast it will take place.

As Katherine Fulton explained in her presentation, we’re now working on a global scale and with new technologies such as crowdfunding platforms, we’re seeing the “democratization of  philanthropy”. As she notes: “this is a moment in history when the average person has more power than at any time.”

I feel confident that now more than ever, we can hear about, see, and experience the impact that our donations of time, resources and money are having. So as long as we continue to see an evolution of fundraising, rather than a wholesale disruption, I think the future of philanthropy looks bright.

Image source: Change – courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 22 May 2015 at 8:30 AM

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