Understanding the importance of engaging the next generation can have significant effects on your family’s philanthropy.

Across the country, families are looking for more effective ways to engender a sense of philanthropy in the next generation and to help them engage in their philanthropic efforts. Although it can be challenging at times, there are solutions that can lead to earth-changing effects. We’ve seen this take shape through some of our own clients’ experiences and we’ve been moved by it. Whether you’re a founder or are working to sustain an existing legacy, or you’re a next-generation successor, these stories may serve as helpful examples of how to think proactively.

Each generation has valuable insights to offer, and promoting open channels for collaboration, learning and innovation on all sides is essential.

Insights in this article came from J.P. Morgan’s 2019 South Region Endowments & Foundations Summit in Houston, where engaging the next generation and bridging the generation gap in approach to philanthropy were key topics of focus. 

A young professional with a passion for improving access to education was approached by her father-in-law to bring some new ideas and structure to the family foundation. With the clear objective of strengthening the math and science programs in underfunded school systems, she used a data-driven approach with quantifiable results—which focused on a strong mentorship program aimed at improving attendance, test scores and graduation rates. Her singular focus on this issue inspired the rest of her family to add some of their own causes to the family foundation. For instance, her sister-in-law approached her about expanding the original initiative to a workforce development and transition program, which prompted her mother-in-law to inquire about increasing ways to provide students in underserved communities with support.

Lesson learned: Be open to new ideas. The next generation may have different concepts about philanthropy, which may serve as a catalyst for innovation.  

A business leader invited his son, a restless teenager at the time, on a trip to East Africa to participate in a project to create wells in rural communities without access to fresh water. The father’s goal was to channel his son’s energy in a useful way to make a positive difference in the lives of others. As time went on, what had started as a father’s vision became the son’s life’s work. By giving his son the opportunity to experience the true nature of generosity while living under harsh conditions on the ground, the son’s eyes were opened to the difficult realities many others face, and his passion for working overseas was caught, not taught. As a result of the family’s grants along with their clean water venture, a mobile health operation and an academy leadership program were created, and their work in East Africa eventually culminated in a separate NGO.

Lesson learned: Generosity is best learned through experience, and it’s important to provide children with opportunities to have these experiences firsthand and independently.

There were several key takeaways we discerned from both the case studies, and the panel as a whole, on how to inspire the next generation’s engagement in a family’s philanthropy:

  • Emphasize collaboration—by listening to everyone’s perspectives and interests, each generation will have valuable insights to offer.
  • Be intentional in engaging the next generation.
  • Generosity and giving evolves over time—provide room for the next generation to progress in their interests and giving strategies.
  • Trust the next generation with some real responsibility.

While cultural values may change from generation to generation, the real reasons why we reach out beyond ourselves and give, stay the same. Younger generations must be able to experience the gift of giving for themselves without placing too many frameworks or constrictions, so that they can define and pursue areas they’re passionate about. 

We would like to thank BJ Goergen, Executive Director of the Private Bank’s Philanthropy Centre, who moderated a lively panel discussion on this subject, along with the following panelists for their insightful contributions: 

  • Jeremy Smith, President of the Rainwater Charitable Foundation
  • Alex Radler, Senior Advisor to the Radler Family Foundation
  • Margaret Hirsch, President of the Hirsch Family Foundation