How Generational Relationships Are Changing the Dynamics of Charitable Giving

Shared values between Late Boomers and Millennials will shape the landscape of Philanthropy and Societal Change in new and revolutionary ways.


There are five generations alive at once for the first time in US history. This has significant implications socially, culturally and economically. Recently, OPB (PBS) ran a series called America’s Generations which featured Chuck Underwood’s seminal work on the impact this demographic phenomenon will have. He outlines the similarities and differences of each generation, as well as how those features will impact the relationships between them.

Perhaps the most fascinating outcome Underwood predicts is that the Late Boomers (those born between 1956–1964) and the Millennials (birth year 1982 to 1996) will cooperatively build the most creatively powerful, profitable, and societally impactful dynamic the country has ever seen. It makes sense if you consider the kinship between these generations.


“Coming of age during the Great Recession imprinted Millennials in important ways similar to Great Depression-era generations,”1  Late Boomers were raised by parents who went through the economic devastation of their era , and continued to carry over the learned habits austerity required for survival. Both generations share an understanding of the economic roller coaster of modern times and its impact on families and communities. They also understand how change occurs and what it takes to make things different.

The Boomers are known as the “helicopter parents” because of their watchful eye over every aspect of their children’s lives and the closeness they created within the family as a result. And that closeness, due in part to both the tight bonds Millennials have with their parents and the Great Recession, goes beyond graduation. One in three young workers (those under 35) are currently living at home with their parents. 2  This deep connection also carries over into the workforce and explains why (and how) the two interact with each other. The expectations of each other are more personal and go beyond the older, more boundary ladened boss-employee hierarchical structure.


While the Boomers moved out on their own, seeking upward mobility and individual independence, the Millennials are hanging around and building interdependent community connections. Much of their focus is on impactful causes, such as sustainability, housing, health, and human rights, causes that make a difference in their lives and those of the people with whom they are connected directly or indirectly. They embrace and foster hyper-local and global connectedness. Think of this model of service and giving as an evolution of the 60’s communes and social activism. Kindred spirits through shared values. This is where the two generations can connect most powerfully to affect change and “impact investing” is the vehicle. 3

When it comes to harnessing the power of change for the good of all, this collaboration between these two generations is a match made in heaven. The Boomers understand the practically applied idealism of the Millennials and support their hands on “do something about it” approach. The Millennials know the Boomers understand their shared values, so they strongly expect the Boomers to put their resources into the game ethically, while the less affluent Millennials get their hands in the dirt, so to speak. To up the ante even further, when it comes to “giving back”, Millennials, even despite their meager incomes, donate cash-money as well. According to the recent Millennial Impact Report, 75 percent of young people donated to causes in 2011. And the trend is holding steady now in the 20-teens.


By 2025 75 percent of the world’s employees will be young people (ie., the Millennial Generation or Gen Y). 4  50 percent of Millennials surveyed in the Deloitte Millennial Survey want to work for a business with ethical practices. 5  The survey asked Millennials to match words and phrases between their own ideals and what a business should achieve. The top ideals are: Job creation, Profit generation, and Improving society.

For all intents and purposes, the Millennials are calling out, and upon, the Late Boomers to clean up what the Early Boomers and The Silents (birth years 1927–1945) have created when it comes to the environment, economy and social structure. The Millennials expect socially conscious leadership and the Late Boomers are stepping up. They are coming to understand that corporate giving improves work performance.  A 2013 report entitled “Snapshot: Trends and Strategies to Engage Employees in Greater Giving” found that employees are coming to expect time off to volunteer, donation matches, and corporate giving policies from their employers. Leading U.S. companies seem to be fulfilling this requirement as a means to attract more productive and dedicated employees. 6

One main vehicle for this new collaboration is and will continue to be social technology. Software and apps that promote and facilitate charitable giving, whether in dollars or time, need to be developed or re-worked to meet the needs of the donor, the non-profit, and the sponsor. One of the newest and perhaps most efficient platforms is ImpactFlow out of Portland, Oregon. Their missions states:

ImpactFlow is not your typical fundraising or crowdfunding site. In fact, our goal is to disrupt the status quo of online fundraising with a platform that leverages the power of big data to automatically match donors with nonprofits and enable them to create lasting partnerships. By streamlining the process of connecting donors and causes, we will dramatically increase community engagement and support for nonprofit initiatives. Locally or around the world, we will enable each side of the philanthropic equation and its stakeholders to meet in a central place to simplify collaboration and join forces to accelerate change.


Solutions like ImpactFlow will be the catalyst for revolutionary change in the coming years as two generations with shared values and concerns partner to make dramatic changes with lasting beneficial effects, locally and globally. The focus and scope of giving programs is shifting from generalized funding of umbrella organizations with a host of programs to more project specific efforts with immediate impact. Explore the current list of projects now seeking funding here. Hopefully, you will be inspired to take action yourself, whether as a business leader or donor. It is not only the generations that are being bridged in the impact investing landscape, whole communities are being connected by common causes and solutions that are mutually beneficial for the global whole.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
~ Dr. Seuss


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