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Facing the Future: Millennial Philanthropy

June 03, 2011

(Reilly Kiernan is most of the way through a year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she wrote about graduating into one of the worst job markets in recent history.)

Millenium-generation Before I started working at the Foundation Center, the word philanthropy conjured up a particular image in my head: rich (usually white) men of a certain age who’d made millions of dollars in business and could afford to give, on a large scale, to charities and institutions of their choosing.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned during my fellowship here is that philanthropy is much more complicated and dynamic than that. Generational change, economic disruption, globalization, and technological developments have all contributed to the emergence of a more global and collaborative philanthropic sector.

In a recent guest post at the Social Citizens blog, Andrew Ho, manager of global philanthropy for the Council on Foundations, argued that the "acceleration" of global philanthropy is very much linked to the rise of the Millennial generation:

It is no coincidence that the rise of global philanthropy mirrors the growth of the Millennial generation. Millennials are more connected, cognizant, and committed to tackling society’s ongoing challenges of a global scope than any generation before them....

Ho's post is one in a series leading up to the June 22nd Millennial Donor Summit, a virtual conference dedicated to the role Millennials will play in philanthropy over the next few decades. The conference is "for the nonprofit leaders and professionals who want to know new methods to involve Millennials; new technologies to increase engagement of Millennials in a cause; new approaches to raising support while spreading messages...."

In thinking about how my generation approaches philanthropy differently than previous generations, I came up with a list of three ways Millennials are changing the face of the field:

1. Everyone can participate. Millennial philanthropy could not be further from my previously uninformed notions of philanthropy as a rich, white man's game. With the influx of younger people into the field, philanthropy is becoming more diverse in terms of gender, race, and geography. And the rise of crowdsourcing as a strategy means you no longer have to be a high-net-worth individual to participate; when crowds are mobilized, every donation counts.

2. We recognize that complex problems call for collaborative solutions. As Ho notes in his post, my generation increasingly identifies with the concept of global citizenship. Thanks to the globe-spanning Internet and satellite communications, we're more aware of the world around us than our parents and grandparents may have been, and we are fully aware of the depth of the challenges that confront us. The same technologies that feed and reinforce our global identity also make it possible for us to work with our contemporaries in other countries to find solutions to the problems we face. We talk to each other through social media, including virtual networks like the Nonprofit Millennials Bloggers Alliance and OnlyUp. We get involved in advocacy efforts on Jumo and Facebook Causes. We love to volunteer and aren't afraid to collaborate. We use aggregator technologies like Idealist.org, Kickstarter, and Sparked to amplify our individual voices and impact. And we are eager to use Web-based platforms to tackle inefficiencies and lower transaction costs.

3. "Social" drives our participation. For many members of my generation, the things we care about in terms of philanthropy are integral to our social lives. As "digital natives," it's only natural that our passions are reflected in our social media profiles and networks. As Sarah Koch, manager of Nonprofit Services at Facebook Causes, explained at a recent Foundation Center event, being able to say you "like" a nonprofit is just as important as being able to list your favorite movies, books, or foods. For me, including links to my favorite charities and discussions about social issues is just as important to my personal online identity as the pictures I share with friends. The upshot is that young people in the field are completely transparent about the issues and passions that move and engage them. The potential for that to spark action is tremendous.

In his post, Ho writes, "Global philanthropy is no longer only writing a check or making a grant and sitting back to wait for the results -- it is becoming much more involved than that. Global philanthropy is drawing from the best of the sectors, and collaborating to find solutions." I'd like to believe my generation is uniquely poised to take up the challenge.

-- Reilly Kiernan

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Posted by Regina Mahone  |   June 07, 2011 at 05:06 PM

Great post, Reilly.

One thing I would add to your list of ways Millennials are changing the face of philanthropy: We understand that philanthropists in the next decade will need to be more resilient and willing to shift direction when a better solution to a social problem presents itself. Some call us capricious, but when push comes to shove Millennials are showing others – their family, friends, or colleagues -- how to be more flexible and eager to try new things until the right solution presents itself.

Posted by Geri Stengel  |   June 08, 2011 at 12:06 AM

It’s the perfect storm: a collaborative mind-set combined with the tools needed to do so. I like the idea of the conference very much as I think nonprofits need to understand the reason social media are important to their future

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