How To Engage The Next Generation of Donors

Redefining giving — on their terms

Why It Matters

Giving is not what it used to be. Demographics, figures, motivations, and means of giving all have changed drastically. According to Aneil Gokhale of the Toronto Foundation, how we respond to these shifts and how we engage the next generation of donors matters for the future of our communities and causes.

The profile of a philanthropist is changing because the people behind the giving are changing, too. They are beginning to reflect the communities where they can have the most impact. At the Toronto Foundation, we believe that we’re contributing to this transformation.
 
But first, we’ve had to reject the stereotypes. You know them well:

Philanthropists are uber wealthy.

Older.

Male.

White. 
 
True. Many of them still are, but we started asking: who else is out there? 
 
Next, we had to overcome a challenge, one that required a shift in how we do our social purpose work.

For the most part, we had been contributing to the status quo over our almost 40-year history. We needed new tools to embrace and engage a new generation of donors.

And this last part might be the single most important thing: we listened.

Generations X and Y are not content with being told how or what to do, and we appreciate them for that.

As philanthropists, they want to lead with — not be led by — us. 
 
The result is a program designed to teach new philanthropists, many of whom are below age 35, about the opportunities and challenges in our city and responsible grant-making. A program that connects them to the neighbourhood champions leading the way to positive change. It’s called Vision 2020
 
Some call it a “Philanthropic MBA.” 
 

Next generation philanthropy at The Toronto Foundation on Future of Good

To Roz McLean, an associate at Burgundy Asset Management and Vision 2020 philanthropist, it was what she was looking for.

“Vision 2020 provides the structure, tools and research for young people with smaller foundations to give as thoughtfully as those with larger amounts of capital, allowing them to focus on building a better city, not just giving charitably when solicited.”
 
And it’s working. No books are required. Just time, brainpower, and passion to move through learning opportunities on topics like values and motivations, the messages taught or inherited about money, and how to balance one’s privilege with the desire to do good. Since joining us last January, the cohort has begun to participate in reciprocal partnerships with community leaders and those with lived experiences of the causes they care about. 
 
All 115 of these philanthropists have also put real skin in the game by establishing permanent Donor Advised Funds to build on this work. My wife Nicole and I are among them. We joined for our kids, our next generation. 
 
Vision 2020 has taught us that “redefining philanthropy” is not a catchphrase. It is a rallying call to donors, of all stripes, to give smarter.