India – Talking about their philanthropy

Neeta Saraogi

In India, philanthropy has traditionally been the forte of older people, something they thought about towards the end of their working lives, often closely interwoven with their religious and spiritual life. The picture has, however, changed rather rapidly in recent years and we have increasingly seen philanthropy among younger people. We have also noticed that this younger generation of givers do things very differently and ‘strategic philanthropy’ comes more naturally to them.

When do they start giving?

This next generation of givers comprises both heirs to family wealth and successful professionals and self-made entrepreneurs. The primary difference between these next gen philanthropists and their older counterparts is in the way they think about philanthropy: while earlier generations waited till they were settled in their careers and families and had amassed a certain amount of wealth, the younger generation does not identify philanthropic giving with a phase or stage of their lives, but rather as a continuum. Philanthropy forms part of their basic values system and they increasingly see it as their way of participating in the community and making a difference.

While many of the larger donors Dasra works with may be older, most members of the Dasra Giving Circles belong to this next generation, often in their forties. They find in these a way to experiment, to find what really excites them before they make larger and longer-term commitments to specific organizations.

Who are the beneficiaries?

Next gen philanthropists are more likely to approach philanthropy in the same way they would approach investments. They research issues to understand them better and use professional advisers to help them with due diligence before deciding which organizations to support. They are also likely to shun traditional recipients such as local religious bodies or causes related only to their community, and are less likely to set up their own projects. They are looking for high-quality non-profits to provide a philanthropic return on their investments, and they want to understand and monitor how those non-profits use the funds.

One interesting trend of recent years is the move away from programmatic funding. Concerns used to centre on how much of the funding reached the ultimate beneficiary and how high the organizational overheads were. However, younger philanthropists understand the importance of building organizations that will achieve larger scale and impact. This is perhaps yet another positive aspect of their treating philanthropy as any other investment that they make, where the outlook is decidedly more strategic and longer term.

How do they give?

Next gen philanthropists are very hands-on and like to be involved closely with the causes they choose to support. They like to be part of the projects and processes of the organizations they support. Increasingly, young inheritors of family wealth are trying to find newer, more strategic avenues to direct philanthropic funding into. Professionals too, start early, even if it is with smaller amounts, learning from that experience to give better and smarter.

Another important trend is the willingness to collaborate. India’s social issues are large and complex and require large amounts of funds and effort to solve, and only by collaborating and bringing the power of their networks together can philanthropists create meaningful change. Once again, Dasra Giving Circles provide the perfect avenue to find like-minded people, pool resources and support leading non-profits to scale.

Giving as a couple

An emerging global trend is for people to give as couples or after their weddings and it’s one that’s catching on fast in India. At least two couples from our giving circles chose to give away what they would have received as wedding gifts. Some couples say their joint philanthropy is one of their most meaningful shared experiences. Giving together often also helps build bridges across generations or between siblings.

Finally, next gen donors differ greatly from their parents’ generation in talking about their philanthropy. Where their parents were silent on the subject, younger generations feel the responsibility to advocate for change, garner support from their friends and peers, and play a more active role in improving our society. This is critical to change in Indian philanthropy. The younger generation seem to be writing an entirely new dialogue around philanthropy and poised to take it to the next level.

Neeta Saraogi works with the Indian Philanthropy Forum at Dasra. Email

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