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Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

Giving is Pandemic’s Silver Lining

Recently, I met with a family who has three children in their 20s. For the parents, philanthropy is a given. They tend to support causes honoring the legacies of past generations. Despite the parents’ attempts to engage them, their kids hadn’t been as interested in such pursuits, focused instead on the competing priorities of school, jobs, friends and extracurricular activities. 

In her book with Michael Moody, “Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors are Revolutionizing Giving,” Sharna Goldseker speaks to the top three reasons for giving among the next donor generation. Millennials, she explains, are supporting a mission or cause fitting in with their personal values; fulfilling their duty as a person of privilege to give back to society; and are looking to see that their contribution is making a real difference, and that the organization has impact. She says: “As these people are entering the working world and having more resources, they care about values more than valuables, and make choices in alignment with those values.” 

When the pandemic hit, these reasons for giving that Goldseker discusses became top of mind for many young donors who were more directly confronted with loss of jobs, homes, and access to food, overcrowding of hospitals, inequitable health care, racial injustice and systemic economic and social inequities. 

Watching these events unfold, a switch went off for the three young adults I worked with. Almost overnight, they seemed to gain a clearer understanding of their ability and position to make an impact. The family’s conversation instantly shifted from How do we engage our next generation in philanthropy? to How do we align our family’s values to give to causes, as a unit, that we all feel good about? And this shift was not unique to this family.

The emergence of youth and young adults as a fledgling philanthropic force, more eager than ever to help the most vulnerable populations in our community comes at a critical juncture for many families. Studies show that philanthropic engagement of the next generation is front and center for parents and grandparents, looking to the long-term future of their family’s giving. And the potential of this generational changing-of-the-guard is vast: a 2014 Boston College report by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy estimated that $59 trillion will be transferred to the next generation between 2007 and 2061, the largest such wealth transfer in U.S. history. 

For decades, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles has worked with families grappling with intergenerational questions and challenges just like this. During my 12 years working at the Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, a significant part of my role has been guiding major fund holders, many comprised of two, three, and even four generations, on questions related to giving as a family unit. This past year, younger generations have stepped up in unprecedented ways, aiming to direct their resources toward the mission of tikkun olam, repairing our broken world.

What I have observed has near-universal applicability to anyone with philanthropic ambitions, and transcends generations, ethnicities or religions.  

Parents and grandparents have told us how thrilled they are to see their children and grandchildren step up to the plate. But this newly found interest also brings up myriad questions, such as:

• How do we align values and interests across many generations?

• How do we give as a family when there are fundamental differences in core beliefs, values, and politics?

• How do we honor the lives, values, and philanthropic pursuits of the past while giving a voice to future generations?

• What resources, beyond dollars, can we use as a family to make an impact on the world – and how can we use our voices and our time to effect change?

• How do we know what kind of restrictions and parameters, if any, to put on our philanthropy as we transfer our wealth to the next generation?

The responses are unique to each family and figuring them out often comes from deep and meaningful conversations that take time and effort. 

For all the pain and suffering caused by the pandemic, this past year has provided a unique opportunity for families to come together to discuss how they want to make a difference in the world. It has created a gateway of sorts to begin discussing some of these challenging questions in order to work as a single unit to alleviate the pain and suffering of others.

In order for these discussions to be successful, there a few ground rules that I encourage families to abide by: 

• Listen respectfully and without judgment to family members at every age

• Find common ground

• Consider what is most important to your family

• Work with experts to consider your options

Multigenerational giving is not easy, and to do it effectively requires commitment and flexibility. By seeking counsel from trained experts, who are poised to work with families as they begin or continue on this path, the philanthropic journey can bring not only fulfillment, but greater peace and justice in our communities – l’dor v’dor – from generation to generation.

Naomi Strongin, a Tarzana resident, is vice president of the Center for Designed Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, which manages more than $1.4 billion in charitable assets on behalf of 1,300 donor families. LA Family Housing, the Los Angeles Jewish Home and Los Angeles Valley College are among the Valley-area organizations that are beneficiaries of the Foundation.

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