Since 2008, I’ve been helping wealthy young people leverage their resources and privilege for social change at the US non-profit Resource Generation. One of the clearest trends I’ve seen as I have organized my peers over the last five years is that young donors want to do more than just give to their local soup kitchen. We want to fund the kind of work that looks at root causes and asks why people are hungry. We are interested in understanding the structural causes behind the issues we care about and finding new ways to support systems-level change.
Because of this focus, young donors are both excited about philanthropy and aware of its limits. My generation has come of age in an economy where it’s harder and harder for most people to get by, and government cutbacks continue to dismantle protections from poverty. Young donors are deeply aware of the fact that the richest 10 per cent of Americans control two-thirds of the country’s net worth, and that for every dollar the average white family owns, the average family of colour has less than ten cents.  We realize that it’s going to take more than voluntary charitable acts to change this situation. So we want to be strategic about using our resources and privilege to push for institutional change on a local, national and even global level.
One of these strategies has been joining the call to raise taxes on the top 10 per cent. Members of Resource Generation’s Tax Justice Campaign have been organizing and speaking out publicly as young people with wealth, advocating for changes like an increased capital gains and dividends tax. We see fighting for higher taxes for ourselves and our families as a way to help structurally ensure that wealth does not stay concentrated in the hands of the few, something that voluntary philanthropy can’t accomplish on its own.
Another trend I’ve seen is a growing commitment to building real partnerships with grantees. We are hoping to learn from the groups we support, to spend time listening to what community members need instead of using our philanthropic power to set the agenda. We want to do more than just write a cheque or read a long report; we want to explore new ways to leverage our resources and access in collaboration with the communities we fund. (Pictured: Consulting Cafe at Resource Generation’s 2012 MMMC (Making Money Make Change) conference.)
This commitment to partnership has also opened up questions about how philanthropic decisions are made and who has the power to make them. Young donors are pushing for more transparency around decision-making; instead of closed-door funder meetings, we are creating dynamic conversations with community members and grantees. We believe that a diversity of voices at the table leads to better, more informed decisions. Many Resource Generation members are joining giving circles at foundations like Social Justice Fund Northwest or North Star Fund, where they can be part of a cross-class grantmaking process guided by community representatives. Young people with family foundations are also engaging their family members and advisers in dialogues about decision-making and power dynamics, using tools from organizations like 21/64 to help facilitate challenging conversations.
One trend I have been particularly inspired by is the way young donors are thinking about investing and security. We are looking for ways to utilize all our assets for social change, not just individual donations or 5 per cent of our foundation’s funds. This means educating ourselves about how our assets are invested and getting more involved in our financial decisions instead of leaving it all up to money managers. For the last two years, Resource Generation has been working together with Confluence Philanthropy on our Next Generation Fellowship in Mission-Related Investing, helping participants find new ways to catalyse their investments in alignment with their values. For these young donors, creating change is an important part of how they calculate their return on investment. As Resource Generation member Margot Seigle, who was recently featured in a New York Times article on younger generations’ approach to investing, explains, ‘What’s important to me is I’m investing my money in communities and in people. If I lose some money in that but people are getting paid great wages, great.’
1 From Mother Jones (www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph) and United for a Fair Economy’s Color of Wealth’.
Jessie Spector is executive director of Resource Generation. Email Jessie@resourcegeneration.org
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