One of the biggest topics in family philanthropy has to do with engaging the next generation. How do multi-generational family foundations find common ground amongst board members with very different worldviews and experiences? How do foundations ensure that the next generation becomes responsible stewards of their philanthropic assets? How does one generation pass along their values about effective grantmaking, while allowing their kids and grandkids to discover their own philanthropic voice?
For the better part of the last decade, the multi-generational issues have been front and center at Council on Foundations family foundation conferences. There was a clear dividing line between session tracts that spoke to older generations and those that addressed the younger, hipper set. It was almost a foregone conclusion that older donors think about things in one way, while younger donors think about those same things in another way. Much time and attention was spent finding common ground, helping each generation see the world through the eyes of the other.
This year, it feels like something has changed, like we’ve turned a corner on the whole generational thing. It’s as if we all still acknowledge generational differences, but it’s not such an “a-ha” concept anymore.
To be clear, generational issues are no less important today than they ever were. And I am excited that organizations like Resource Generation and 21/64 continue to have a forceful presence at this event. They have been so effective at advancing the generational agenda that it no longer needs to be a trumping focus.
But it also seems like things are changing so quickly that generational boundaries are no longer as relevant. That’s because we’re all in flux. The world is not the same place it was even five years ago. Needs are greater, resources are diminished, technology continues to reinvent everything, and the focus is on innovation. By necessity, our guiding imperative is “how can we all do more with less?” Today-and more to the point, at this conference-there is a sense that we’re all in this together. Two and even three generations sitting side by side, ready to tackle the challenges of the day.
As the name of this conference implies, what once was a conversation about differing generational needs has fused into a cohesive conversation about what’s best for our families, our communities, and the world at large. Mothers and daughters are sitting elbow to elbow in an effort to better understand the merits of impact investing. Grandparents are participating with Gen 3 in sessions about social media. Soon-to-be board members are making deliberate efforts to understand their family heritage in order to become stewards of their philanthropic legacy. There is a refreshing absence of boundaries across generations that wasn’t always there.
I’m curious to know if others feel the same way?
Page Snow is the chief philanthropic officer at Foundation Source.