Q. WPI’s latest research, Moving Money and Shifting Power for Social Justice: Voices of Wealthy Next-Gen Donors, explores giving to social justice causes by wealthy Millennial and Gen-Z donors. Can you share some of the key findings from this research and what it means for the philanthropic sector?

Dale: We had a number of findings from this large interview study with 28 younger donors whose ages ranged from 24 to 42 years old. We were interested in how they defined social justice philanthropy and their experiences giving in this space. What we found in looking across next-gen donors is that they typically enacted six practices with their giving, and those were:

  1. Ceding power
  2. Empowering others
  3. Being transparent
  4. Changing systems
  5. Giving wholly: Giving of their  time and skills, knowledge, and resources 
  6. Being willing to challenge themselves, both in terms of the issues that they were giving to and their ability to give more money in bolder ways 

All the donors had a different mix of causes and organizations they supported. But what was interesting was that they didn't only support the traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofits. They were also active in political giving – whether to candidates directly or to issue-based campaigns and other movements – and supported advocacy organizations and gave to mutual aid causes. Some interviewees talked about helping people purchase homes by giving them $10,000 or $20,000, for example, towards their down payment. These aren’t always the typical gifts you think about when considering philanthropy. They were giving in a very expansive way. 

Ackerman: These donors’ expansive ways of giving demonstrate an approach to social justice philanthropy defined by the “how” or the process by which they give rather than giving to a specific type of organization. This “all-in” nature of philanthropy has also been described anecdotally in previous WPI research. In this way, social justice giving will likely challenge traditional definitions of philanthropy moving forward.

Q. The research revealed some core tensions that next-gen donors experience ( i.e. “fighting wealth inequality while benefitting from class privilege”). How might these tensions impact the way they give? 

Dale: With that tension, in particular, these donors recognized they held class privilege. Even coming to that understanding in U.S. society is something that takes work. Participants often described not realizing the scale of their wealth until around their college years. A commonality among many participants was that they graduated from college debt-free, which allowed them to choose what line of work to pursue and begin saving immediately. 

When they looked at the resources they had or inherited in their 20s and/or 30s, they understood they were in the top 10% of wealth holders in the United States. With that realization came the reflection that they felt like they needed to do something to share those resources. At the same time, they were aware that they often had “safety nets” from family members, which allowed them to make large gifts without worrying about financial instability. Many participants said they could make bigger and bolder gifts directed at long-term systems change, with the understanding that they were doing so from a place of privilege.

Q. What are the key motivations for next-gen donors to give time and money?

Dale: You can think of the motivations for giving in many different ways. This group of donors was trying to identify individuals and organizations who often exist on the margins of our social structures and offer their support. For instance, there was a white transgender artist who realized that they were in a position of privilege but wanted to support other queer and trans people who didn't have the same support that they had. Whether through mutual aid or supporting trans or BIPOC organizations, they sought out organizations trying to build collective power and movements, sometimes working at the intersections of multiple issues. 

Donors’ motivations could get very specific as well. One participant talked about seeing their mom work a low-wage job and the impact that had on their giving today. Even though they had more resources, they directed many of them toward workers' rights and worker organizing. Some individuals might have grown up in places like the Southern U.S. and were interested in movements to get land back to Native communities or to make land ownership possible for Black individuals. 

There was a common idea among these donors that our economic system wasn’t built to reward people fairly. Oftentimes, the resources they were giving were trying to correct the inequalities they saw. They felt empowered by moving and giving in a direction aligned with their values. 

This isn’t in the report, but it is where the research is going: We are starting to think about the interplay of privilege and oppression, which is the understanding that many of these donors have held both privileged identities in our society, whether it’s through their class, race, or gender, but also hold identities that are typically marginalized. Their privilege has often given them the means to give the resources of money, time, and knowledge of skills, and their marginalized identity serves as the motivation to give. They draw upon both of those in their giving and collective organizing. 

Ackerman: We know that philanthropy is often a deeply personal practice, and this report drives home how our identities inform philanthropy. Interviewees’ overlapping, intersectional identities—be it gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class privilege, or religious beliefs—are key to their giving decisions.

Q. How are next-generation donors making an impact beyond financial contributions? What can other donors learn from this approach?

Dale: These donors weren't just giving to 501(c)(3) organizations for tax incentives. Instead, they have this breadth of philanthropic activity: They would open up their homes or their families’ homes to organizations, serve in leadership positions as board members, or actively fundraise on behalf of an organization.

Much of their volunteering was within Resource Generation. Some participants were leading chapters and helping other donors to do the same kind of learning and giving they were already involved in. Building that donor network and engaging in donor organizing was a contribution they made in addition to the monetary one.

Q. What barriers exist for next-generation donors, and what advice do you have for them?

Dale: One of the barriers that came up repeatedly for people had to do with the complexities of wealth and their access to wealth. Another was finding the right financial professionals and, in some cases, philanthropic advisors to help support their giving goals. Our whole financial system is designed to make money off of money. In many cases, these donors were looking to disrupt that. 

Another challenge that came up was navigating family dynamics. These donors had ambitious giving goals, often using family money set aside for them, but they didn’t want to seem reckless or dismissive of family concerns over that money. They had to be strategic about how they were making gifts with thoughtfulness toward those particular dynamics. 

Additionally, as donors in the study got into their 30s and as people got married, if they started having children, it became more difficult to find the time to do this work. 

The last barrier was not becoming disillusioned and wanting to remain committed to this work. When you care deeply about these issues, it’s easy to feel like change isn't going to come, but that’s why it’s also really important for a donor to keep the long game in mind. 

Ackerman: Networks like Resource Generation provide a community for donors to navigate those barriers. It’s so important that these donors have that so they can learn from each other and rely on each other to give advice, partner on different initiatives, and have that forum where their common concerns are understood.