Movement Building And The Rising Generation Of Wealth

Madeleine Williams October 20, 2022

Movement Building And The Rising Generation Of Wealth

The author of this commentary argues that movements will continue to have a strong audience with young people who receive their social and philanthropic education through voices in media that resonate with their values. 

Philanthropy often intersects with efforts to effect social change, and now is such a time. Unless one has been living on a desert island for the past few years (and without Internet access or cable TV), it has been impossible to miss discussion on diversity, race, and inclusion, pandemics, or the encroachments on individual privacy, lack of equal opportunity in education, the problems caused by the addiction to drugs, social media and so much more. More positively, there are inspiring stories of how people can and do fix these problems and advance their lives and opportunities for others. 

With that in mind, this news service is pleased to share the following commentary from Madeleine Williams, philanthropic associate, at Strategic Philanthropy. (The team at Strategic Philanthropy, in particular the principal and co-founder Susan Winer, are well known to Family Wealth Report. Winer has written for FWR on various topics – such as here and here. Winer is also a member of this news service’s editorial advisory board.)

As we reflect on philanthropy in America since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there are certain changes that are most evident in the shifting landscape of charitable giving. Women and the "rising generation" have assumed prominent roles in financial and philanthropic decision-making and the rising generations are particularly impacting how philanthropic dollars are being spent. This includes engaging with movements for social change. 

As a growing trend in philanthropy, movements give the rising generation a voice for their greatest passions and an outlet for educating their predecessors in return for the resources to mobilize a highly effective, and necessary, network of social change-makers.  

During the largest transfer of generational wealth we have ever seen, the rising generation will be inheriting unprecedented amounts of capital. However, unlike preceding generations, amassing more wealth and saving it for future generations is not their priority. What is important is the desire to effect change around economic and social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion and the environment. Therefore supporting movements is a significant trend as the next generation rises to their full potential as change-makers.

What are movements? 
Movements are difficult to define because they harness the currents that carry social change however necessary to address our country’s most complex needs. Racial Equity Tools is an extensive online resource of information about equity work. In their glossary of terms, they define a movement as “organizing and helping to activate the will and capacity of people and organizations to work individually or collectively toward a vision they all share.” Movements are powerful because they unite generations, communities, and 'issue-areas' to add creative momentum to the narratives of positive change in society. 

Movements of all kinds are mobilizing around us to support many issues including mental health care, education, food security, and more. Western States Center, a nonprofit in Eugene, Oregon that organizes movements, stated in a press release that even when we can’t control the actions of others, "...we can exert influence over our own social movements and should continue to do so with urgency." Movements empower communities to move away from division and toward efforts that build bridges and offer solutions of partnership. 

Who cares about movements?
The question of who cares about movements is critical because the answer provides the context for making the necessary social and financial capital available. The rising generation of wealth comprises Millennials and members of GenZ, for whom movements are critical to their philanthropic education. According to research from CCS Fundraising, a leading fundraising and philanthropy consulting firm, Millennials and GenZ members care most about organizations which align with their societal values and reflect something bigger than themselves, as movements do. Through the presence of movements in social media platforms, podcasts, music, community events, and more, the rising generation hears about our world’s greatest needs, which gives rise to questions they ask and ways they can innovate, disrupt, build trust, and mobilize…. the core components of a movement. 

A rising generation board member of a family foundation surfaced a new grantee focused on environmental movement-building through a podcast she frequently listens to. The board, comprising the previous generation, was open to funding the movement because it fell within their decades-long commitment to environmental causes. This opportunity led to adding other grassroots movements to the foundation's funding portfolios. This is one instance of movements appealing to the rising generation and bridging gaps between generations of wealth and family philanthropy. Movements will continue to have a strong audience with young people who receive their social and philanthropic education through voices in media that resonate with their values. 

Why does it matter?
One of the primary ways the rising generation is questioning the status quo of philanthropy is by shifting their attention to movements. They are a solution to the desire to fund social change in a new, dynamic way. According to the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, one of the nation’s leading philanthropic research entities, we know that "Today’s next by many accounts revolutionizing giving and the nonprofit sector, while raising core questions about philanthropy itself in unprecedented ways."

As a result of the rising generation’s lead, the focal point of philanthropy is coming to reflect societal needs and personal values rather than perpetuity and investment strategies. The Johnson Center’s Frey Foundation chair for Family Philanthropy, Michael Moody, writes, “...there is growing interest in new collaborations and partnerships to scale impact, both between funders and grantees and among donors of different types.” Movements are at the center of this, affirming that a primary fulfillment of rising generation priorities will continue to be funding movements that include diverse donors, issues, and organizations. This strategy is informed by three elements the rising generation values:

1. Movements are trust-based and relationship-driven. The rising generation wants to engage leaders of social change through mutual trust rather than financial transaction alone. According to CCS Fundraising, this includes practices such as volunteering and sharing ideas with nonprofit leaders; 
2. Movements maximize collective impact beyond traditional benchmarks of change. Movements feed off funders who focus not on what they can do alone, but what they can do in collaboration with others; and 
3. Movements prioritize transparency and accountability. According to research conducted by Deloitte, the rising generation demands these values from the workplace, government, and social sector. Movements offer visibility to change, even though it takes time. 

The philanthropic landscape is evolving
While there are always changes that take place in philanthropy, the impact that the rising generation is and will continue to have on how philanthropic dollars are channeled is one of the most significant. They will continue to allow their values to lead their drive for social change and are poised to initiate a large-scale deployment of funds into the hands of those leading and organizing movements of all shapes and sizes. These movements matter because, regardless of their goals, their modes of operation align with the defining characteristics of the rising generation of wealth holders. 

Understanding the growing trend of supporting movements, and why the rising generation supports them, will help us all to prioritize lasting social change in our personal philanthropic agendas. 

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