Not Your Parents’ Philanthropy … But Leadership by Example Makes a Difference

By Avrum Lapin

We are mindful of the values that we pass from one generation to the next – connectivity to family and tradition; commitment to excellence; interest in issues bigger than oneself. We often measure our personal success by the success of our children. This includes our children’s commitment to philanthropy. Not that their charitable destinations will or should mirror ours, but their level of involvement and activity is a metric of how much we have inspired and passed on the intangible measure of charitable intent.

Philanthropy is a core tenet and part of the essential backbone of our American society. Commitment to community and to helping others is central to Judeo-Christian platform and the polyglot of religious traditions that have come to comprise our nation and make America stand out as a beacon to others.

In the Heart of the Donor study commissioned in 2011 by the Russ Reid Company and conducted by the Grey Matter Research & Consulting we find the following indicators of the impact of parental giving on the philanthropic inclinations of the next generation:

Parental Giving:

  • Among people who recall their parents frequently supporting nonprofit organizations, 52% are themselves donors today.
  • Among those who saw their parents provide occasional support, 46% are now donors.
  • But among people who rarely or never saw their parents model this behavior, only 26% are donors today – half the proportion of those who say their parents gave frequently.

Talking to kids about philanthropy has an impact too:

  • When parents did this frequently, 51% of today’s adults are donors.
  • When parents did this occasionally, 44% are donors.
  • When parents rarely or never did this, just 32% are donors.

Even without the whirring of the helicopter, we can impart the sense of philanthropy in many different ways. We introduce the value of giving early; making it a part of family life. When children become old enough to make decisions, we guide them to options where they can see the impact of the dollars that they give and raise, and we nurture the sense of one’s responsibility to others.

Moreover, we make the critical connection between giving and the way that our lives, and the lives of our families and communities, are made better. That ensures the vitality and potency of personal philanthropic intent and the generational connection between the dollar given and the result achieved.

When we make philanthropy a part of adult life, and the notion of giving consistent with good citizenship, results happen. And those results are for life…

In fact, a recent study shows that parents and grandparents continue to influence their children’s decisions beyond childhood.

According to #nextgendonors: The Future of Jewish Giving, published 2013 by the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, emerging philanthropists are influenced to give by their parents (92%), by their grandparents (63%), and by close friends (53%).

However, unlike with the generational transition from the Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers, GenX’ers are more likely to take different philanthropic paths and make different philanthropic decisions than their parents. Gen Xers, men and women aged 35-50, have different ways of giving, different priorities, and different motivations for giving than their parents and grandparents.

The report states that Generation X donors are mindful of the privilege they have inherited or that comes with the wealth they are creating. They seek a balance between honoring family legacy and assessing the needs and tools of the day.

The core motivations for Gen X’ers as we have indicated in the past, and as reinforced by the report, are different than their parents and include the following:

They support a mission or cause that fits with personal values and make contributions that make a real difference, and donate to an organization that gets results and has real impact. They are keen on helping those less fortunate help themselves, helping communities be self-sustaining and supporting issues that have affected them personally or will improve their lives in tangible ways.

So as we frame our philanthropic initiatives we must take into account:

  1. The importance of family;
  2. The imperative of generational giving; and
  3. The changing priorities and motivations for philanthropy – including the breakdown of organizational loyalty replaced by commitment to initiative and result.

At the same time we need to keep focus on guiding donors who instinctively seek the transactional (what do I get for my gift) to reach for the transformative already within them (how do I make things better for myself, my community and the lives of others). If we achieve that balance and tap into the strength of values, we construct an informed platform and the building blocks for success. It requires constant work and vigilance.

My colleagues and I welcome your comments and emails. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading-edge approaches and strategies. Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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