The Future of Philanthropy



“One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four….”

If you are a member of my generation – the Boomers – you may remember singing this English rhyme. In our early school days it served as a way to choose teammates, but now the jolly tune may serve as a way to teach the next generation ways to bring discipline and joy to their charitable giving choices.

One percent, two percent, three percent…ten, fifty percent or more! How do we educate and inspire young adults to become generous and committed to a life-long philanthropic strategy of giving? What are some of the practical ways Millennials can begin to express their values in meaningful ways for the greater good of the community in which they live? How will they prepare to use their talents, time and money to address the ongoing concerns for a more just and peaceful world? What is their connection – if any – to the altruistic legacy of the generation of aging idealistic Boomers? Who will lead the Millennial 50 percent giving pledge challenge and carry the torch forward from the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates?

In 2015, Americans gave $373.25 billion to charitable causes according to the Giving USA Foundation. That is a mere 2 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And while the wealth of our nation has dramatically increased over the past 40 years, the 2 percent giving percentage of GDP has not increased at all. According to the experts we spend 50 times as much on politics and 10 times as much on professional sports each year than we give to charitable causes. Imagine if charitable giving only increased to 3 percent at year, there would be an additional $150 billion dollars to help solve problems and create the world we want now and for the future. Two percent we have, three percent and much more is on the wish list.

But let’s become practical. Forget the wish list. I advocate we pass the torch to the Millennials and provide the tools for their philanthropic success. How about not measuring their annual giving to the GDP but rather begin with a universal buy-in to give one percent of their annual earned income. And as their income grows adjust their giving percentage of earned income accordingly. Research by the One Percent Foundation has reported that when a person starts to give to charity early in their life and becomes strategic and disciplined in a process which over time inspires their giving to become more generous. The Foundation leaders believe that philanthropy, “Should not be driven by income or age, but by the power of collective action to create lasting change.” It is the Foundations goal to build a broad based movement for philanthropy by educating and mobilizing young adults to give away a least one percent of income annually and encourage each person to increase the percent over time as their income grows.

In 2016, Millennials between the ages of 19-35 now number 75.4 million compared to 74.9 million of Boomers age 52-70. Yes, without a doubt there is great power in numbers but here can be even greater results when the heart takes the lead as to how time, talent and money are allocated. So how does this greatest cohort on earth start on their quest to “put more potatoes “in their philanthropic basket?

Let me suggest three ways:

  1. Give with passion
  2. Give with purpose
  3. Give to empower

Passion: Giving with passion is a way for Millennials to identify in their heart the greatest desires they have for the use of their time, talent and money. Having the ability to center thoughts and deeds by listening to the heart can simplify life and free the mind and the soul to be attentive to seeing the needs of others and being open to create solutions. It helps to bring clarity to what is important in life and it can reprioritize values to complement vision, redirect resources and bring more meaning into the activities of daily life and work.

Purpose: Giving with purpose illuminates the meaning of why we are here. This is a way to focus on giving back, reaching out, and cultivating the strength to become disciplined and strategic in how to give. Finding purpose in life is the foundation to guide one’s spirit. Sharing one’s purpose creates a ripple effect as kindness and compassion radiates from one person to the next. It enhances self-knowledge of who one is, and how one wants to interact with others as an influence for creating solutions that will impact the community for the greater good of all.

Empowerment: Giving to empower oneself releases the freedom to realize one’s dreams and take ownership of the outcome. It reflects the strength and courage to garner all possible resources to fulfill a dream and publically acknowledge one’s values. With freedom also comes the self-power to transfer the giving of time to the giving of money and reinforces what is important and significant in life. It provides the frame for choosing how one wants the giving of their wealth to impact society.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Millennials have the capacity to dream big and create the world they want. The one percent strategy is a way to harvest a whole lot of potatoes!”


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