Known for their extraordinary generosity and desire to make the world a better place, younger generations are bringing new energy and ideas to philanthropy and, in many ways, redefining what it means to give. Next-generation philanthropists—made up of millennials and Gen Z—are starting younger, bringing entrepreneurial ideas, and are willing to look beyond traditional approaches in order to see results.
If you fall into the category of a next-gen philanthropist, you have the potential to steer your family toward new horizons. However, establishing yourself as a next-gen philanthropist might mean overcoming several challenges, including finding your individual voice in a family tradition that might have been passed across generations. While there’s no clear-cut approach to carving out your role, the following foundational steps are critical in embarking on a journey of effective and fulfilling giving. They include:
- Considering Your Relationship with Wealth
- Exploring Your Personal and Family Values
- Practicing Experiential Learning
Considering Your Relationship with Wealth
Feelings associated with wealth are often complex and might vary based on your unique situation. For example, first-generation wealth owners have the opportunity to explore wealth’s meaning and build a tradition of giving, yet knowing where to start may be difficult. On the other hand, if wealth has been passed down from one generation to the next, inherited wealth might be viewed as a barrier to creating your own identity.
Regardless, it’s important to recognize there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel about it; even within a family, relatives can have markedly different views. Rather than being a detriment or barrier, feelings towards wealth can be a valuable asset that guides you.
Exploring Your Personal and Family Values
Take time to formally consider your personal identity and values as they relate to your wealth. The act of creating a written record and putting thought into it can help clarify your thinking. You might start by listing out the values most important to you, values you aspire to but don’t feel you’ve quite lived up to or consider recent situations where values came into play and how you responded.
Working with an advisor can help guide the process by leveraging tools and exercises or facilitating introspective discussions. Whether you work independently or alongside an advisor, consider developing a written document of values that you can come back to and that might even be included as part of other mission statements or documents in a family foundation.
Practicing Experiential Learning
As your values come into sharper focus, dig in and learn about the various issues and causes that align with your value system. Listen to podcasts or lectures featuring leaders and scholars specializing in your focus area, read annual reports from organizations that strike your interest and gather with fellow next-gen philanthropists to exchange ideas. While it’s natural to want to get involved and see immediate results, learning—like philanthropy itself—takes time.
As you learn, push yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to gravitate toward familiar and comfortable circles of friends, acquaintances and colleagues—these networks can be valuable, but widening your scope can reveal additional opportunities, perhaps with grassroots organizations with modest budgets that are doing transformational work within communities. For example, as COVID-19 intensified, many donors were naturally eager to help in any way they could. This included stepping outside traditional networks to seek out organizations working directly with the most vulnerable communities, which were best prepared to respond quickly and directly as the crisis evolved. As you engage in experiential learning and explore new potential avenues for giving, you might find that you have the power to expand your family’s network of interests and the organizations it supports.
Using Wealth to Create Meaning and Purpose
As a next-gen philanthropist, you have the power to drive change. While philanthropy can be instrumental in transforming the communities you care about, it’s rarely ever as simple as doing good and feeling good. Taking the time to explore your values, goals and ultimate approach can help your giving feel more authentic and bring greater purpose to your life.
Donna E. Trammell is head of family wealth stewardship at Bessemer Trust.