The term philanthropist, it seems, is getting a bad rep. The next generation of philanthropists at this year’s Philanthropy Australia conference made it perfectly clear that they would prefer to be known as ‘change-makers’ or ‘social entrepreneurs’, and so, are ‘consciously uncoupling’ from being known as philanthropists. It appears today, as discussed at the Conference, the title of philanthropist is marred with out-of-date connotations for this next-gen crowd and does not reflect their modes of giving.
Disassociating from the label of philanthropist may be unique to the Australian psyche, according to CASE’s Sue Cunningham, a panellist in the Evolution or Revolution: Is Philanthropy Future Ready? session who had not come across this trend in her extensive work in education either in the US nor the UK. As fellow panellist Gemma Salteri suggested, perhaps philanthropy in Australia may be in need of a brand make-over.
So the questions beckon – why are there negative associations aligned to being called a philanthropist in this country? Why is this next-gen crowd so keen to move away from traditional models of giving?
Millennials across the globe are challenging the philanthropic establishment by viewing the act of giving through a different lens to their predecessors. These budding philanthropists are questioning traditional non-profit business models, and challenging the sector’s traditional take on communications – with a particular focus on transparency – as they voraciously live and share their lives through online platforms. Millennials ambitiously also want to see change during their lifetime and so are shifting the practice of giving and donating their philanthropic assets – time, skills, and money – now.
Today, competition for support in the non-profit sector is increasingly fierce, as more peer-to-peer lending platforms and impact investing opportunities are embraced by these entrepreneurial wunderkinds, and as more commercial enterprises enter the market with a profit-for-purpose premise. These consumer-focused companies are communicating social issues and social impact in compelling and sophisticated ways that compete head on with the so-called traditional non-profit market. And with the use of digital communication tools at people’s finger tips, individuals can make social change quickly, and importantly, without the need of an established institution.
So while understandably the sector is keen to embrace the changes that make for a disruptive organization to remain relevant, the art of engagement appears to be an overlooked or perhaps undervalued topic of discussion to remain viable. How we, as a sector, are conversing and engaging with millennials is critical to changing perceptions, and ultimately driving the sector’s long-term growth and sustainability. Are we engaging this generation by inviting them to be part of the story, and indeed, part of the solution? Are we being transparent enough to demonstrate how their contribution has made an impact and encourage them to witness first-hand just how we are using their donations to make change? Are we accountable through our choice of metrics and how the results are disseminated? Are we communicating that we too are change-makers?
Engaging donors is an enduring and transformational practice – regardless of the philanthropic platform in question. This is about building genuine, personal relationships with individuals continuously over time, and strategically and seamlessly across all the communication channels they may use. And so, in a sector competing for share of wallet and share of time, fundraising and engagement seemingly need to morph into the one strategy.
Perhaps for this next generation of givers, the term philanthropy implies that impact is a long and ongoing journey, whereas ‘change-maker’ inherently feels like impact is immediate. While it may just be semantics – these young donors are after all philanthropists by any definition – the move away from the label of philanthropist presents an interesting inflection point. Although our non-profit sector does not have the robust, long-standing traditions that many of our international peers have, we are conversely less encumbered by the past. We, as a sector, can adapt with greater agility to new realities; we can and should view these trends as critical insights and future predicators, and use them to create systems and practices that respond to donors’ emerging behavioral patterns.
Marisa Mandile is a Management Consultant at Philanthropy Squared.