• October 25, 2014

Wealthy Young Donors Push Charities to Show Results

Affluent young donors say they are more focused than their parents and grandparents on producing a measurable impact with their giving, according to a study released today.

What’s more, some of them say they care more about advancing a cause than helping an institution, the reverse of how they see the philanthropy of their elders.

“Heartstrings don’t do much for us,” says Jaimie Mayer Phinney, a 29-year-old trustee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, established by her great-grandfather.

Younger donors want to conduct research on charities so they can find groups that meet their strategic goals, according to the study. But they are not dismissive of their family’s philanthropy, it says.

“They are respectful of legacy; they’re not rebellious or reckless,” said Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64, which advises young donors and their families. Her group conducted the study along with the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, at Grand Valley State University.

Only a third of those surveyed said they give to different causes than their parents. Still, they are more likely than their families to support civil rights and the environment and less likely to support the arts, religious groups, and health causes.

Parental Influence

The report was based on a survey of 310 people age 21 to 40 as well as 30 in-depth interviews. The majority of those surveyed inherited family wealth; only 7.2 percent said they were their family’s primary breadwinner.

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said their parents influenced their thinking on philanthropy, while 63 percent said the same about their grandparents and 56 percent about their friends.

Many of the donors surveyed became involved with nonprofits at a young age and today seek out volunteer opportunities that go far beyond helping to host a gala.

Ms. Mayer Phinney, for example, says her father, a longtime chair of the Cummings foundation, is her philanthropic role model. He started a “philanthropy club” at her high school, giving $500 and charging his daughter and her classmates with giving it away responsibly.

Today, Ms. Mayer Phinney works as program director at the Slingshot Fund, a nonprofit that supports innovative Jewish projects, but she also gets involved in groups to which she donates. Until recently, she served on nine nonprofit boards.

She says that young people like her often view philanthropy as a big part of their lives.

“For decades, philanthropy has been a little like the obligatory salad plate, and my generation is putting it back into the main course,” she says.

Peer Reviews

Another characteristic of younger donors, says Ms. Goldseker, is their desire to make giving decisions in collaboration with their peers.

Twenty- and thirty-something donors tend to trust information from their peers more than other sources of information, the study says, and they are very interested in giving circles and other ways of working together. More than 30 percent said they turned to “next generation” peer groups to learn about giving, compared with 28 percent who sought information from community foundations and 27 percent who reached out to the Council on Foundations, an organization that represents grant makers nationwide.

Among other findings from the study:

• Nearly 78 percent of wealthy young donors said they gave online in the past year, while 71 percent said they had made noncash gifts and 70 percent said they volunteered.

• More than 53 percent of those surveyed said they planned to be very involved with their family’s philanthropy, while only 3.6 percent anticipated no involvement.

• More than half said they were very or fairly experienced volunteers.

• More than 90 percent said they visit an organization’s Web site for information, while 61 percent ask family members and 30 percent send an e-mail to the organization.

Where Young Donors and Their Families Give

Source: 21/64 and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, at Grand Valley State University

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