When we first started sharing our vision for 50 new funds set up by millennials and Gen Xers in May 2017, some leaders in the sector scoffed at us.
It was a big idea: create a two-year program that teaches new philanthropists about issues in our city, effective grant-making, and connects them at the ground level to community development. And the only way to opt-in? By creating a permanent endowment at Toronto Foundation.
As a community foundation, we are uniquely positioned to offer resources and access to knowledge about our city’s most intractable problems and the organizations working to address them. We had yet to have in our near-40-year tenure a program targeted to younger people. We had no idea if this would appeal, but we struck a nerve.
We’re not the first charity to create a next generation philanthropy program - others are serving a great purpose in their own right - but we wanted to take it deeper. Thanks to The Case Foundation’s research (and many others!), we knew that the next generation wants to be engaged beyond singular causes and galas, and more than that, they need to be.
An opportunity not to be missed
Millennials and Gen Xers are changing the world in innovative and exciting ways, especially in philanthropy. We are well informed and engaged in the world around us. We are driven by the causes we feel are important, which affects the way we give. While older generations are more likely to support particular institutions, young people plan their giving around specific issues and we gain motivation when we can see the tangible impacts of our giving.
The next generation’s philanthropy is also affected by the unprecedented financial challenges we face, including high housing prices, high student debt and low salaries. As a result, we are volunteering more, planning and attending events, and advocating for causes we care about both online and on the ground. Environics Analytics has some great data on this. It focuses on Millennials and Gen Xers with significant means, but motivations and interests across income levels share common ground.
From Labour Day 2017 to January 1st, 2018 we recruited over 50 new funds representing over 70 individuals, spanning ages 23-50 with most in their early 30’s. They truly reflect the diversity of Toronto. Half the group are married and a quarter has children. Regarding careers, it’s quite a mix, including a lawyer, teacher, filmmaker, finance professionals, tech entrepreneurs and founders. Each fund is being started with $10,000, and if they can match that from family, friends or their employer, Toronto Foundation will leverage an additional $10,000 to be pooled for collective granting by the group.
Starting from January 2018 through to January 2020, they’re going on a learning journey. They’ll collaborate with Toronto’s brightest city-builders and community leaders to be part of leading solutions. They’ll also be able to direct their pooled dollars to impact investments.
We’re lucky in Toronto to be a part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Program. Our cohort will have the opportunity to learn from our Chief Resilience Officer and engage with the Neighbourhood Resilience Project through resident-led participatory grant-making.
In 2020, when the formal program concludes, they will each ‘graduate’ with their own permanent endowment Fund and the tools and knowledge to guide their giving for the rest of their lives. You could call it a Bootcamp or “MBA in Philanthropy”.
One of our participants, Bailey Greenspon, a Senior Manager at G(irls)20, sees the innovative and community-based model as accessible and achievable for millennials:
“As a manager in the nonprofit sector, I recognize how important it is to trust grassroots organizations by supporting them with untied funds to serve the communities they know best. It gives them a safety net to fail when uncovering the best solutions to local problems.”
What charities can do
Offering permanent endowments geared to younger people sounds counter-intuitive, so the first step in fostering lasting relationships with them is to let go of stereotypes. By introducing young people to smaller organizations, frontline workers, and issue experts, charities can help young people see, touch and hear the realities of life in their communities. These experiences inspire young people to give smarter.
Another participant, Roz McLean, an Associate at Burgundy Asset Management relates how:
"Vision 2020 provides the structure, tools and research for young people with smaller foundations to give as thoughtfully as those with larger amounts of capital, allowing them to focus on building a better city, not just giving charitably when solicited.”
Above all, young people value authenticity, transparency, and data-driven decision-making. The more honest and up-front an organization is about its strengths and weaknesses, and the more research it has to support its work, the more trust they can build with Millennials and Gen Xers.
Charities also need to offer flexibility and meet these younger funders where they’re at. I met with one of our new fundholders during a jog through High Park, and met another couple for dessert at a local restaurant. I needed to make it work for these individuals who are successful and busy in their own fields.
Talk the talk, walk the walk
Some of our cohort was drawn to the program by the education they’d receive, others the networking opportunities, still others the opportunity to create a legacy, and some all three. Creating a compelling case that appeals to them specifically is fundraising 101, but for us, this target group was a first - so we honed our pitch with our younger staff. I’m in the cohort too: My wife and I are participating because we want to kick start our own philanthropy strategy and use this to educate and influence our children about the value of giving from a very early age.
There have been more than a few think-pieces about the fear our sector has that the younger generation doesn’t have the appetite for “traditional philanthropy” and that we may lose our core donor base. Kevin Vuong, a social entrepreneur and another one of our participants shares:
“I cannot espouse the importance of taking actions without practicing what I preach, so I am committed to investing my own capital to build up our city.”
What we now know to be true is that the next generation wants to give. They are absolutely willing to commit if they can see that their offering will have an impact, both on themselves and their community. We can do it, and we are
Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.