The first few years of Generation X are turning 50 and a shift in leadership is occurring, now seems like a good time to
consider what the coming transition of wealth from an older to younger generation means for philanthropy and
Whatcom County. In a study released last year on NextGenDonors, it was estimated that some $40 trillion of wealth will
be transferred over the next 20-30 years, with potentially half of that winding up in philanthropic causes. I fall right in
the middle of Generation X and I see how myself and others of Gen X and Gen Y (Millennial) have a different focus in
how we give, not just in legacy organizations but in giving with a vested interest in its’ impact and purpose.
Characteristics of Generation X.
The exact birth dates Generation X vary depending on who you ask, but it’s generally accepted as early 1960s to early
1980s. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are over 40 million Americans in Gen X and they hold the highest
education levels of any previous generation. Gen X likes to get involved, according to the Corporation for National and
Community Service, with the highest volunteer rates at nearly 30%.
Gen X tends to have more entrepreneurial tendencies than previous generations, starting businesses at 3x the rate of
Baby Boomers. This entrepreneurial drive stems from values that focus on independence, autonomy and self-reliance
developed after seeing so many boom and bust cycles in the 80’s and 90’s. While that may sound like a route to
selfishness, in fact Gen X as entrepreneurs carved out their own success and now want to see their hard earned money
go to causes that are meaningful, impactful and provide opportunities to be involved.
Many of the Gen Xer’s I know are focused on having their philanthropy efforts not just be about the money, but also on
their engagement in the organizations that will benefit from their dollars. Gen X donors spend time researching where
their money goes and want to be active participants in the organizations they support, for the long-term. They want to
embrace the challenges a company is facing by sharing their resources and offering their time, talent as well as their
treasure. The rise in social entrepreneurship, B Corps and businesses that focus on “social good” is creating a business
culture that also encourages impact philanthropy, something that Gen Y looks for in potential employers.
Not only is the way in which money is given to philanthropic organizations changing but many of the new targets of
giving are changing. While many of the traditional outlets for giving won’t change (education, religion and health), both
Gen X and Gen Y look at the focus of projects within these organizations that will solve problems around topics like
social issues, global impacts or sustainability.
With the changing trends in philanthropic giving, for profit as well as non-profit businesses have an opportunity to
embrace these values early to attract the upcoming new generation of wealth. Gen X and Y are more connected to their
peers and topics that interest them through the various forms of social media. Their desire to be a part of things and
have an impact can be seen in the dramatic rise of crowdfunding platforms, which are primarily based on donation or
pledge models (for now anyway, that may change over the next few years). They are also more focused on customer-
centric businesses, which opens the door for the community of consumers, locally and globally, to be empowered to
shape the future of how business is done and what philanthropic causes succeed in their desired impacts.
With the largest wealth transfer from one generation to another coming up in the next couple of decades the potential
for a new golden age of philanthropy is possible. Non-profit and for profit businesses can take advantage of being on
the forefront of these changing trends and adopt policies that allow the upcoming generations opportunities to become
vested and engaged in the causes they want to support.
*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.