Donors: The Next Generation

August 20, 2007       Dwight Burlingame      

Parents serve as trusted advisors to children in myriad ways throughout their lives. One of the most valuable roles parents can play, whether their children are youth or adults, is to help them understand the importance of philanthropy and to assist them in discovering their own philanthropic values.

The philanthropic tradition must be taught and passed from one generation to the next, lest it wither and die.

Parents, educators and nonprofit leaders must help foster philanthropic mindsets and behaviors in future generations. Philanthropy is the space in society where innovative approaches are developed to address complex social problems. It encourages pluralism and diversity of ideas, and serves as a check on the government and business sectors. It addresses the spectrum of community needs, from meeting basic human needs to enriching culture and creating a better future.

To fail to instill these values in young people risks losing the heart of our society and the giving and volunteering that sustain it. Next-generation knowledge of why and how to engage in philanthropy is needed more today than ever before. The nonprofit sector is expanding in size and complexity to meet increasingly diverse challenges. The Foundation Center in New York City indicates that the number of family foundations in America grew 22 percent, from 27,804 to 33,994, between 2001 and 2005, and the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C., reports that family foundations now comprise more than half of all private foundations.

Boston College’s John J. Havens and Paul Schervish estimate that more than $41 trillion in wealth will be transferred to younger generations by 2052. More people are earning wealth — and giving it away — at younger ages. To put this wealth to the best possible use, young people must understand philanthropy and their place in it.

Beyond these trends, we all have a responsibility to help develop children who care for others, regardless of the economic status or background. Philanthropic practices help a child develop compassion, altruism and good citizenship. They also nurture children’s psychological needs by benefiting both society and the philanthropic individual.

Leading by example and exposing children to a variety of opportunities is one of the most important ways to engage children, who then acquire philanthropic values, in part, by observing and participating alongside family members, teachers and other adult mentors. Research confirms the importance of parents in transmitting philanthropic activity. Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS) of more than 8,000 households found that adult children whose parents gave to religious purposes are more likely to give to religious purposes and to give more. It also found that adult children whose parents gave to secular purposes are more likely to give to secular purposes and to give more.

A study commissioned by the Bank of America and conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that adults in more than 70 percent of high net-worth households discuss philanthropy with children and approximately 35 percent allow their children to participate. Other studies, such as those conducted by Independent Sector in Washington, D.C., indicate that people who volunteered as youth give and volunteer more as adults than those who did not. That process can start with something as simple as accompanying a parent on a community service project.

Parents also can help establish philanthropic habits through their religious communities, where children can learn about rituals of giving during religious services, such as putting money in a collection plate, and can engage in volunteer work. Many community organizations, such as the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, Youth as Resources, Youth as Grantmakers and 4-H also provide opportunities for young adults to learn about and practice philanthropy.

In an interview with the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP), Dr. Kathryn Agard, founding executive director of Learning To Give, suggests that parents and educators can identify developmental milestones in each child’s life at which they can move to deeper understanding of and involvement in philanthropy. She recommends specific activities and educational benchmarks for children at each stage that help to facilitate this development.

The process can begin in children as young as toddlers. Using language such as "You are helping our family" can help them understand why they should contribute to their family, school and community. Agard says that elementary school age children start to reach out to others and parents should begin to tell family stories of philanthropy, including both giving and receiving.

By middle school, children are open to the realization that philanthropy is a tradition that exists around the world and should be involved in a regular, planned volunteer experience. In high school, leadership development and transferring key knowledge about the nonprofit sector are important, and youth should be encouraged to become active in personal giving and to explore careers in philanthropy.

The NCFP recommends that parents maintain a strong connection with the unique interests and talents of their children as they grow. At each step, parents can help young people to self-identify their own unique talents, how they want to spend their time, and the valuable material gifts that they want to give away.

There are also a growing number of efforts to expose children to philanthropy at school. Learning to Give recently merged with The League to provide leadership to build the practice and teaching of philanthropy into formal K-12 education, offering meaningful and fun service learning projects and free teacher resources that help students to live and understand philanthropy.

Learning to Give also offers valuable tools for parents to encourage the teaching of philanthropy in their children’s schools and to use in their homes and communities. A resource entitled "Nine Ways to Raise Children Who Give, Share & Care," encourages parents to take such steps as reading books to their children that contain messages of giving and service, involving their children’s friends in philanthropic activities, and encouraging their children’s schools to adopt the "academic service-learning" teaching method.

A pioneer in this approach is The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Institute for Philanthropy and Service Learning at the Westminster Schools, a K-12 private school in Atlanta. The institute focuses on engaging children in all grades, parents, faculty and alumni in the tradition, values and practices of philanthropy and in service projects. Rising seniors can take Philanthropy 101, a four-week summer course teaching the art and science of smart giving, including a stipend from which they make a donation. Courses such as "History and Economics of American Philanthropy," one of the first such for-credit courses in secondary education, and an interdisciplinary, experiential course, "School for the Common Good," are offered as well.

A year-long service and learning program for fifth-graders called Urban EdVenture helps students develop a sense of community and citizenship at an early age. The semiannual Glenn Institute Lecture Series helps parents understand how to instill and reinforce philanthropic ideals at home.

As children grow into young adults and begin to develop their own views, the NCFP and other experts emphasize the need to help children discover their own philanthropic calling. According to NCFP, "Allowing a child to establish and pursue his or her own philanthropic agenda can be a valuable way of both reinforcing the importance of giving back to the community and allowing them exercise their independence."

Howard W. Buffett, son of philanthropist Howard G. Buffett, agrees. "It is absolutely important to pass philanthropic values down. But it is also important to keep in mind that members of the next generation need an opportunity to explore their own ideas and their own kinds of interests within the realm of philanthropy, and to be able to branch out from what their parents or aunts and uncles or grandparents are doing."

This is especially significant when involving children in long-standing family philanthropic traditions or in a family foundation. Sharna Goldseker, vice president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies who manages 21/64, the organization’s division specializing in next generation and multi-generational strategic philanthropy, suggests that "one generation can never truly transfer its interests to the next, as the next generation brings its own unique set of historical, familial, and communal experiences to the philanthropic table."

In an article she wrote for Foundation News and Commentary, she notes that bringing new generations into the family’s philanthropy does not mean "transferring philanthropic decision making, but instead involving multiple generations in the process." As Paul Schervish writes, "Passing on a philanthropic orientation to the next generation is at best passing on a method for conscientious decision making."

Young adults of financial or other privilege, face particular challenges in identifying and shaping their own philanthropic paths. A number of organizations and programs have emerged to provide multi-generational or next-generation resources to help with this. Organizations such as 21/64, Resource Generation, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), and GENERous exploRATIONS offer publications, workshops, conferences, networking and peer learning to assist these young philanthropists. Whether by guiding inner-city toddlers or advising wealthy young professionals, everyone working in nonprofit organizations supported by philanthropy have a role and stake in the success of continuing the philanthropic tradition.

Managers must encourage volunteers and donors to talk to their children about the rationale and scope of their philanthropic activity. You can encourage them to engage their children with them in our organization’s events and activities. You can work with local educators and school administrators to establish programs that teach students about the philanthropic tradition and engage them in both giving and volunteering.

We can arrange special activities for young people ourselves. By establishing the value of philanthropic giving and communicating this regularly to youth, parents and educators and nonprofit leaders provide a valuable foundation for a lifelong understanding of philanthropy and how one’s time, talent, and treasure contribute to a civil society. **** Eugene R. Tempel is executive director and Dwight F. Burlingame is associate executive director and director of academic programs for the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

**** This article is from NPT Weekly, a publication of The NonProfit Times.

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