Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

Former Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

Talk to Next Gen philanthropists to see what's next for philanthropy

4 March 2020

A recent (excellent) Alliance Magazine and Next Philanthropy event covered questions such as:

  • ‘What does our sector need to do in the next decade to win public support for its work?’
  • ‘Does philanthropy need to democratise or decolonise? What does best practice look like?
  • ‘Are the next generation more liberal?’

Panellists debated the questions around where institutional philanthropy is at the moment and where it could be. There was a wide agreement that a global field of philanthropy has emerged, with some topics having reached fairly broad agreement while for others a consensus across countries is still lacking.

The question of where money comes (or came from in the past) was high up on the agenda. The issue of divestment, and in particular divestment of endowed assets was seen as now becoming more of a mainstream discussion. But there is more dissent in the field on the question of whether philanthropy can only be legitimate when it gives back to the communities that were the source of the wealth to begin with (e.g. through resource extraction). The same goes for discourses around reparation and decolonisation of wealth.

A separate source of innovation

Philanthropy, many participants argued, is often seen as a separate source of innovation outside of the state and private sector. And this innovation is independent of where the money came from initially.

But other factors can hold the effectiveness of philanthropy back. The lack of diversity in the sector was brought up by some participants; with recent data from the UK and the US showing a clear gap in terms of different communities being represented (in particular on foundation boards). The need for a need to focus more on community philanthropy was also mentioned.

Policy frameworks for philanthropy in many countries were seen as outdated, particularly when we are seeing a proliferation of new models. At the same time, the development and investment of philanthropic infrastructure was seen as an important, but very US/Europe-centric topic – funders in emerging economies seem to be more concerned with directly addressing needs.

The question was also raised of whether the field focuses too much on the ‘how’, i.e. the (legal) mechanism and models for philanthropy, but not enough on the ‘why’, ie the motivations as to why people give – and whether this was holding back efforts to increase trust in philanthropy across society.

Whether transparency works as a general tool to increase trust was debated as well. There are many instances where funders have legitimate reasons for not sharing any information on where money came from and where it goes to (think the human rights context). But there was also fear that this might lead to a general rejection of transparency and data sharing principles, while funders are actually in a good position to make judgement calls on what data to share.  

Liberal views

The question of whether Next Gen philanthropists are more liberal in their attitudes and views (however that might be defined) was a central one a this event. Of course the views on the panel might only represent a sub-set of Next Gen funders.

There may also be significant differences between different types of funders and donors: individuals who have inherited family wealth, for instance, might differ from individuals who engage with philanthropy because they have resources from a business venture or through employment. But the discussion prompted some really good questions about what Next Gen philanthropists might be concerned with – and why the language of ‘institutionalised philanthropy’ might just not appeal to them.

These are just some examples:

  • New models for giving: for Next Gen philanthropists the vehicle for their giving might not be very central, as long as it is agile enough and helps with fulfilling of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ they give.
  • New funding areas: they might cover new topics early on, also issues which have been historically neglected by institutionalised philanthropy (when looking at the wider field).
  • New drivers and motivations for giving: social justice, climate change and inequalities in wealth distribution might feature way higher (for some) Next Gen philanthropists as we expect, while being aware of the limitations of philanthropy (e.g. that it does not instantly equate to social change and requires time). Next Gen philanthropists might embrace giving while living and still have a long-term outlook on their giving.
  • New realities and realisations: many might share concerns around sustainability and the future of the planet paired with a view that business as usual in terms of resource use and means of production cannot go on forever given current predictions around the impact on human life on earth due to climate change.
  • New views on social justice: many might be open to conversations around inequalities in wealth distribution and access to resource, in particular on the global level, while embracing discourses around the power of philanthropy to drive transformation and social change (in particular when looking at climate change and achieving global goals such as the SDGs, but also taxation of wealth).
  • New views on power and history: in parts of the field there could be very open discussions around topics such as the decolonisation of wealth, and questions of historic debts to communities when it comes to wealth accumulation. Issues of diversity and the inclusion of the communities funders want to serve could be come more to the forefront for Next Gen philanthropists.
  • New networks and peers: Next Gen philanthropists have formed their own collaborations and networks; it will be interesting to see what this means in terms of developing new norms around obligations to share and give back, and how role models and peer groups for funders differ from past examples; there might be also an increased desire to link up with social movements (and pick up their topics) or engage with movement-building efforts
  • New attitudes towards transparency and tech: Next Gen philanthropists were socialised in the new digital age; there is a question as to whether this makes them more inclined to engage with transparency, data sharing and collaborative efforts (or whether there might be opposite effects and a desire to give more anonymously).


Drivers and motivations

A lot of this reflects existing questions around drivers and motivations for Next Gen philanthropy. There is an increasing wealth of research and literature (mainly from the US) that looks into this topic and provides further answers.

But from a more practical point of view in terms of developing an inter-generational conversation around philanthropy the idea that a focus on technical approaches and mechanisms and benefits to the donor might not resonate with the language that Next Gen philanthropists use to describe their giving (or their desire to give) is important.

How can philanthropy (as a field) then build bridges to a wide range of actors with differing motivations and capitalise on the upcoming wealth transfer? What are the conversations and the common set of language and concepts that can be evoked to connect institutionalised philanthropy and Next Gen philanthropists to define common goals, or bring in younger people that were not thinking about their own giving (yet)?

There is clearly still a long way to go to answer these questions, but the opportunities to harness the energy and drivers of a new generation of philanthropists who may differ significantly from previous ones are clear.