Trends in Philanthropy – the rise of Impact Giving

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.


Impact Giving

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.


Community Empowerment

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.

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