The philanthropy landscape is shifting underneath us.  The fact is that it is always shifting, to evolve as each generation reacts to and learns from what has worked and what hasn’t.

Sometimes we learn from scandals such as the $1.2 million diverted for personal use in the early 1990s by the head of the United Way, William Aramony.  Or we learn because of info or technology that helps us collect and sort information, do things more efficiently or helps us see things from different perspectives.

Then there is the influence of each generation, with their mindset and perspective.

Millennials (typically defined as those born between 1977 and 1994) tend to think differently about success and their giving than previous generations because of some of these dynamics.  Millennials:

  • Started giving earlier in life than previous generations – 16 years old vs. 22, 24, and 27 for GenX, Boomers, and Mature demographics, respectively (US Trust)
  • Have matured as the Giving Pledge (wealthy families pledging to dedicate the majority of your net worth to charity) has become more commonplace
  • Recognize the importance of their network, citing as key elements of their success “connections” within their community – almost 30 points higher for millennials than average response ratings- and “mentors” -26 points higher for millennials than average response (US Trust)
  • Have grown up with social media and other enabling technology, which provides quick, simple ways to share, learn about and support a diverse range of issues
  • Have embraced alternatives to charitable giving such as crowdfunding, social impact and socially responsible investing, and social enterprises

These dynamics, combined with enhanced technology and access to information, have given philanthropic consumers an improved ability to measure impact and effectiveness, increased transparency and created a more democratic, open system, enables consumers to engage and mobilize their social network, and expand our definition of what philanthropy is.

These trends are important to be aware of regardless of your role in philanthropy.  We all stand to gain from them if we understand how they are relevant.

  • Individuals have more ways to address issues they care about, can collect information faster and have more ways to engage their social networks
  • Families have many alternatives for engaging different generations and learn from each other, providing opportunities for young and old to mentor and learn from each other, strengthening family relationships, building confidence and skills, and establishing a more sustainable experience for the family’s philanthropy
  • Institutional Funders can be more strategic and engage, leverage and extend support more efficiently
  • Nonprofit Leaders have more tools to use for communicating with and expanding the donor community and have access to donors who are willing to engage more extensively in their mission

Millennials are frequently maligned for their deep connection to remote friends on social media while ignoring the conversation at the dinner table, or for their ability to log endless hours staring at their heavily armed avatar while waging war in some dystopian future world, or for their arrogance in believing they are destined to sit in the corner office before they turn 30 and retire before they hit 35.

But the overwhelming reality is that Millennials, like every generation before them, are keen observers and quick to adapt.  We have a lot to learn from them.  And the sooner we recognize the opportunities that are wrapped inside the trends they have already embraced, the more time we can spend focused on the issues that need our attention.