Groundbreaking report sheds light on next-generation philanthropists

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A new report from Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy and 21/64 provides a first-of-a-kind study on the habits of next-generation donors, who will inherit an unprecedented $40 trillion and are poised to be the most significant philanthropists in history. 

The report, called Next Gen Donors, looks at how the major donors of the future are approaching their giving and how it differs — and remains the same — from their parents and grandparents.

The report is the most comprehensive of its kind, drawing from 310 surveys from high-capacity young donors and 30 in-depth individual interviews. Young donors represent the future of philanthropy, but up until now, very little has been known about who the next generation of donors are and what they are interested in. 

Through analysis of the survey responses and dozens of candid statements direct from next-generation donors, the report reveals:

Next-generation donors want meaningful, hands-on engagement with the causes that they care about and want to develop close relationships with the organizations they give to, giving their time and talent as well as their treasure.

Next-generation donors are highly connected with their peers, learning about causes from trusted friends and sharing philanthropic experiences with peer networks.

Next-generation donors seek to maintain the difficult balance of respecting the legacy of previous generations and revolutionizing philanthropy for greater impact, aiming to use new, innovative, even risky strategies to make their giving more effective.

For next-generation donors, philanthropy is a part of who they are; it is not just something they do. Young donors start developing their philanthropic identity from an early age by learning through hands-on experiences and looking to older generations, and they are eager for new personal experiences that will help them learn to be better philanthropists.  

“Until now, there has been little research on this small but influential cohort of young people who hold the future of major philanthropy in their hands,” said Michael Moody, Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. “This study helps us move beyond our preconceptions about next-gen donors, and shows – somewhat surprisingly – that they have some strong similarities to previous generations of donors, even while clearly wanting to make big changes in how philanthropy is done.”

The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy is an academic center focused on increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the charitable sector. Their work involves conducting research, teaching effective practices, and providing pathways to service. They work extensively in West Michigan and throughout the state of Michigan, nationally and internationally. 

They make a difference by enhancing the impact of foundations nationally and nonprofit organizations regionally, improving the quality of community decision-making with community members in West Michigan, and encouraging a habit of civic engagement among students, staff, and faculty at GVSU.