Discovering the Next Generation

September 19, 2012

Although philanthropic professionals have strong relationships with their donors and fund holders, they often have yet to develop relationships with the successor trustees or family members who are due to become the next generation of community foundation donors. Using findings from a first-of-its kind research study we conducted with the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, 100 community foundation professionals from around the country came together to learn and share ideas about how they can begin to build meaningful and trusting relationships with Gen X and Y donors involved in family philanthropy.

Still mining the data from 310 survey respondents ages 21-40 and nearly 30 interviews, Michael Moody, Frey Chair for Family Philanthropy at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, made these observations:

  • Although this cohort may be younger than most in the field, they are interested in being leaders today, not just in the future. Many have already assumed critical leadership roles in their family’s philanthropy. They see the inheritance of such a mantle as an important, long-term endeavor. They are honoring the legacy of their predecessors as well as examining the impact their philanthropy can have on today as well as tomorrow’s needs.
  • The next generation is hungry for real experience and engagement opportunities that will help them become more effective philanthropists. 
  • The next generation wants to play an active role, bringing their experiences and ideas, not just their bodies, to the table. They are leading in many aspects of their personal and professional lives and want their voices and vision to add value to their philanthropy as well.
  • Next generation donors believe in impact. They fund root causes, not just symptoms. By embracing new forms of philanthropy (including social entrepreneurial approaches, funding program-related investments, etc.) and other ways of building on tradition through innovation, the next generation has the power to completely transform philanthropy over the next decade if they are invited, engaged, and cultivated.

On the program was Robyn Schein, director of donor experience and engagement at the Minneapolis Foundation, with whom 21/64 has worked on providing multigenerational family philanthropy services. The Minneapolis Foundation has developed “Fourth Generation,” referring to the fourth generation of the hundred-year-old community foundation. The program is an entryway into the foundation and the community, giving young professionals in the region an opportunity to connect with their peers, learn about effective philanthropy, and affording them the chance to make allocation decisions and be involved in communal leadership today.

What is essential to effectively cultivating this cohort is this: If you involve the next generation in meaningful and substantial ways today, they will support you in meaningful and substantial ways tomorrow.

For more information on the research, contact or We look forward to launching the official findings of the study with the Council on Foundations, one of our collaborating partners, at the Council’s Family Philanthropy Conference in January 2013.

This blog was written by Sharna Goldseker and was originally posted in the Council on Foundation’s RE: Philanthropy blog.

Sharna Goldseker is the managing director of 21/64, a nonprofit consulting division of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, specializing in next generation and multigenerational strategic philanthropy.

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