Finding the Slack: Millennials, Family Wealth, and Philanthropy

Millennials: the next gen, entitled, needy, self-absorbed, noncommittal, and impatient. I am sure you can think of many more negative stereotypes that seemingly characterize this generation.

I am a millennial. I come from a wealthy family. Sometimes I am more concerned with my Facebook Page than the local, 6 o’clock news. However, what you don’t know about me is more valuable.  I am not entitled.  I did not earn this wealth. I am honored to carry out my family’s legacy of philanthropic giving.  I am committed to exploring my passions and learning at every road block.  I am a philanthropist who wants to create, and more importantly, understand the impact of my giving.

Three years ago, I transitioned out of my first big girl job with a private foundation in Colorado Springs – El Pomar Foundation.  At this point in my life, I decided to look deeper into the heart and soul of a family business – the family foundation. The family foundation, at the time, practiced checkbook philanthropy.  Knowing this purpose, I wasn’t sure I would be fulfilled. I wasn’t sure I’d be taken seriously or valued internally or externally. Was working for my aunts and uncles going to be rewarding? Was this going to be my job for the rest of my life? Was I the right person for this position?

It was my family’s willingness to have a conversation regarding my concerns that ultimately allowed me to commit to the position. That conversation was thoughtful and all-encompassing.  We discussed the family’s philanthropic aspirations, as well as my own.  I was asked to share my ideas and my knowledge from the field.  As outcomes and performance were measured, my ideas became products of trust.

Embracing diversity and conflict has kept my feet firmly planted at the foundation. Feedback, honesty, and a commitment to solve conflicts are key pieces to our success. Being able to give and receive feedback is a learned leadership skill, not an acquired one.  Knowing how people approach and solve conflicts must also be learned. Working with people is challenging. Working with millennials does not make the situation any different or harder.

Millennials are the nation’s largest living generation.  It is time to trust them and bring them along.  It’s time to build strong bridges of communication over the messy swamps of family dynamics. Deep-seeded institutional knowledge, combined with new blood, is a powerful fusion.

As we continue to navigate the generational differences that face our society, I encourage you to explore a few insights from a millennial embracing her family’s wealth through philanthropy.

  • Look Beyond Common Stereotypes. Discover what drives the millennials you know.  Perhaps their passions don’t fit within your mission or perhaps your mission should be re-evaluated – not to discount legacy, but to enhance it.
  • Create a Challenge, Spark Opportunities. Ask yourself how millennials will be challenged within your organizations and foundations. What skills can they bring and how can you further develop them?  My mother’s patience in teaching me is what brought me this far and it will be what carries me further.
  • Share.  Look to the past, present, and future to help guide conversations and idea sharing.  The best programs incorporate this tiered approach.
  • Find and Establish Trust.  Trust is earned, but you must first believe.
  • Find Some Slack.  Many of us are young.  You were young once.  The world is a much different place now. Perhaps we are inexperienced, perhaps we just need someone to take a risk on us. Use our curiosity to your advantage and put us to work!