The new philanthropists


Patrick Schmitt


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

Comments (2)

Pushpa Sundar

Hi, This is not really a new approach in India. Ever since the beginning of the new century, as the middle class expanded with higher growth rates, and civil society organizations have increased to meet social need, , this kind of philanthropy, which I have called collective or aggregated philanthropy in my book, Giving with a Thousand Hands, OUP) has also increased. This is borne out by the data in the Bains and Co's annual Giving Reports. This is set to grow faster than giving by HNWI.

Uri Ngozichukwuka

Hi I have read through this very inspiring new approach to philanthropy and hope I can challenge your organisation to look towards Africa.. Particularly at African women living with disabilities. My name is Uri Ngozichukwuka and we run an NGO working with persons with disabilities especially women. We are barely two years old but have demonstrated we are a hands on NGO. We are called EDWIIN.......Empathy Driven Women International initiative......we are on instagram/Twitter @EDWIIN _Nigeria. On facebook....edwiin KINDLY assis us with the following We need motorized scooters for most of the women to move easily for their everyday activities from business to school. We also need sporting wheelchairs. Some are athletes We need regular wheelchairstoo We need to upgrade their IT literacy to help them be better equipped for the demands of contemporary employment. We need maternity kits for the pregnant woman living with disabilities. We need computers laptops and Visual and hearing aids. I could be contacted directly through e-mail +2347035013456. I apologise if this is not the conventional way for funding my passion drives me and I will be prepared to channel this rightly. Thanks for reading through Kind regards Uri Ngozichukwuka EDWIIN

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