As foundation boards reach out to recruit younger trustees, they should recognize the differences between Generations X and Y and be willing to learn from the ideas the newcomers bring, said two young presenters at a session of the annual Council on Foundations meeting today.
Sharna Goldseker, who said she is a member of Generation X (people born from 1965 to 1980) and a vice president at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, and Jos Thalheimer, a 28-year-old graduate student at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, said that while people their age may appear to be flighty opportunists, that is simply because their generations are so much smaller than the baby boomers and therefore each person has many more opportunities for career advancement.
Many young people are busy with families and careers, and some may be looking for ways to get involved in foundations, including those started by their own families, without necessarily serving on boards.
Generation Y (people born from 1981 to 1999) is a larger generation whose members are coming of age amid a time of economic turmoil, and they make be looking for internship opportunities at foundations, in part to improve their resumes.
Members of both generations, said Ms. Goldseker, “have to figure out who they are before they can figure out what they want to fund.”
Ms. Goldseker directs 21/64, a nonprofit consulting division of Bronfman that specializes in “next generation” strategic philanthropy. The division has handed out about 12,000 sets of cards listing values like pleasure, power, spiritual growth, equity, and innovation. The cards are used to get people thinking about how their experiences and values might influence their grant making.
Ms. Goldseker and Mr. Thalheimer, whose great grandfather founded American Oil Company, better known as Amoco, offered a list of ideas for reaching out to the next generation of trustees. Among them:
The “kids” are now adults. People are living longer and often focusing on philanthropy late in life, which means as many as four generations may have a say in how a family foundation operates. Current leaders of foundations can cede some power by moving from a parent-child relationship to a peer-to-peer relationship, Ms. Goldseker said.
Learning is a two-way street. Younger trustees are not going to want to sit deferentially for a year or two to learn the ropes. Mr. Thalheimer said he was recently approached by a charity that works internationally to serve on an advisory board made up of young people. They wanted to teach him about fund raising and fly him to Oxford, England, to show him part of their operations—but they never expressed interest in what he was bringing to table. He turned down the invitation.
“All the learning was going to be one way,” he said. “I can’t begin to tell you how big a turnoff that was.”
Transparency matters. Older family foundation trustees may be reluctant to talk about money, but today’s young people know that they can find out how much somebody paid for a house and other financial information with a click of the mouse. Generation Y, especially, views sharing bad news, such as writing publicly about a grant-supported program that failed, as a sign of strength rather than weakness, said Mr. Thalheimer, whose family runs the Alvin and Fanny Thalheimer Foundation.
He added: “We’re known for sharing the most awful things we do late at night in the most public forums imaginable.”