Annaleise is in her late 20’s and lives in New Mexico. She’s a college graduate and works as a counsellor. Not the typical profile of a philanthropist who ‘planned giving’ officers engage with. But late last year Annaleise made a will for the first time. She was prompted to think of good causes when designing the will, and chose to leave a share of her estate to one close to her heart: Operation Underground Railroad (OUR); a charity that works to permanently eradicate sex trafficking.
Annaliese is not alone. Others have joined her in pledging more than $200,000 to OUR. More still have pledged to small specialist organisations such as CurePSP (who work with rare neurological diseases) and big ones like the American Heart Association. Small gifts mount up.
I’m lucky to be Co-CEO of FreeWill. We provide free online tools to make a will. The tools encourage people like Annaliese to think about giving to good causes and the impact they want their life to have in death. In the last 18 months, we have helped more than 30,000 people pledge more than $360 million in their wills. That’s double the amount philanthropic titan Marc Benioff donated in the same period.
It’s time for us to expand our view on who a philanthropist is and could be.
In the next 20 years, $30 trillion is set to transfer from one generation to the next. This is the largest wealth transfer in human history. The prosperous, and very prosperous, have long thought about these transfers and the opportunity to make an impact. Family offices have expanded to bridge the gap into upcoming generations. Planned giving teams have understandably focused effort on building relationships with these existing, wealthy, donors. They are leaving money, support and advocates on the table.
These potential supporters, are typically from middle class backgrounds with their most valuable assets, such as their home, illiquid. They get to make a big gift once – we estimate it to be 75 per cent of the total they will ever give – and not at a time of life, but when they die.
Those of us who work in social impact need to apply to ourselves a challenge we so often make to grantees – how can you scale this? A key part of this answer is for non profit leaders and the philanthropy sector it to expand its focus. Of course it’s important to engage with high net worth individuals and family offices, but it is time to look further afield. The new philanthropists are not just the tech billionaires in Silicon Valley, they are people like Annaliese with the potential to be a movement that includes millions of others.
To reach them the sector needs to cast the net wider, and think digitally. They need to show that anyone can be a philanthropist, that gifts having significant impact (the average bequest on FreeWill is more than $72,000) are not just for the super prosperous and they need to make giving easier.
Stanford lecturer Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen has long called for our understanding of a philanthropist to be broad – ‘anyone who gives anything in any amount to create a better world’. The new philanthropists we work with are showing that their version of anything can be every bit as significant as the well known players that are celebrated far more regularly. We just need to lift our heads and start the conversation.
Patrick Schmitt is co-founder and co-CEO of FreeWill