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Are Philanthropic Values Taught? Engaging the Young Donor

Young PhilanthropistsI recently found myself in a discussion with an experienced and generous philanthropist about younger donors. This person was frustrated with some younger entrepreneurs in his community who have significant wealth but are not involving themselves in the community the way he and other civic leaders believe is responsible.  And so he asked me how philanthropic values are taught, and whether young people today hold the same philanthropic values found in prior generations. 

Here’s some of what we know: evidence suggests young people, when we account for wealth and education (two significant indicators of giving), are as generous as any generation in history.  In 2008, Campbell & Company partnered with the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University (which was then called The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University) to better understand charitable giving across different generations. The research found that while giving does differ from generation to generation, each generational cohort still has a strong propensity to give.

We at Campbell & Company are encouraged by the enthusiasm we see among young volunteers and donors at many institutions with which we work. Interestingly, there does appear to be important differences in how some young donors and volunteers operate. Some of the differences, regarding independent behavior, seem connected to the evolution of the virtual world, where there is no one dominant voice but instead ongoing dialogue among virtual communities of people. And because of this, nonprofits, to some degree, have less control over their brand and messaging. The benefit, however, is that young donors are viral; they can become some of your most powerful advocates.

We also know that philanthropic behavior is learned. In my discussion with the philanthropist, to which I referred earlier, he told me he and his wife are matching gifts 4-1 which their children make to nonprofit organizations of their choice. Naturally, their children are giving more now.  And recently, Campbell & Company funded research at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) examining the impact of student focused philanthropic programs (to be released in the May/June 2014 CASE Currents edition). As might be expected, institutions who invested in student philanthropy programs tended to have more generous and involved younger alumni. 

Some behaviors, such as short-term giving, found in younger donors may be a result of inexperience.  And, in time, they will most likely moderate certain aspects of their philanthropy to fit longer-term norms. Engaging with this generation is an important strategy for the longevity of nonprofits across the US. It’s important to be bullish on young people and their desire to be generous. 

By Peter Fissinger, President and CEO, Campbell & Company 

About Campbell & Company

Campbell & Company is a national consulting firm offering advancement planning, fundraising, communications and executive search services for nonprofit organizations in the education, health and medicine, arts and culture, environment, social service, and professional society fields.

Through thirty-plus years and thousands of engagements, we have helped nonprofit organizations anticipate and manage the challenges of the philanthropic marketplace. With offices around the country, Campbell & Company brings you the benefits of local knowledge, and national best practices.

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I recently found myself in a discussion with an experienced and generous philanthropist about younger donors. This person was frustrated with some younger entrepreneurs in his community who have significant...
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