Kayla Sickles

Instructional Content Coordinator

About Kayla

According to Philanthropy News Digest, “…most of Gen Z are either still in school or too early in their careers to build substantial wealth, and statistics on their donor participation and wealth building are minimal…” Regardless, they’re making waves with their giving and advocacy habits. As digital natives, Gen Z have learned how to effectively use their online platforms to advocate for causes they care about, often spreading awareness, and giving their time, attention, and social support rather than their limited financial resources. Already, Gen Z is on course to become highly philanthropic in addition to being highly engaged (as they age, the largest transfer of wealth in human history will take place). Lisa Greer, a notable philanthropist, and author of Philanthropy Revolution shared that currently, “Our youngest donors are extraordinarily socially engaged. They want to be in relationships with the people who are doing the work; making decisions that address the issues of today, and also define tomorrow for all of us.”

Like Millennials before them, Gen Z are even more likely to give to decentralized, small nonprofits or movements compared to larger, well-established ones. Unlike Millennials though, they’re intentionally looking to make a difference in a new way. Greer mentions that she’s seen this difference firsthand. “…Younger generations are already finding their own creative spaces in which to engage their philanthropy…[they’re] forming alternative communities of giving…[and] the way they’re thinking about giving—and executing on this thinking—is entirely new.”

A recent report published by Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact noted that younger generations like Gen Z are especially concerned with impact but give and relate to causes differently than their predecessors. Greer’s experiences support this idea, noting that from her perspective, “these generations aren’t very keen on established models…they definitely prefer start-ups to charitable giants, and they also tend to be eager to experiment.” The question is, are we ready to ride the waves they’re making? The reality is, we don’t have a choice. As Gen Z ages, their flow will not only influence the current state, but shape the future of philanthropy, regardless of whether we’re ready to change or not.

A friend of Greer said it simply, stating “We all know the transfer of wealth is coming. We also all know that at some point, when the older generation steps back and these folks inherit the money, they’re going to be our leaders and supporters. So, this is the moment to engage them, but it will require a recalibration of the system.” Recalibrating the system to capitalize on coming opportunities began with raising awareness of the need to change, followed by educating to understand why change is necessary. Over the last few years, philanthropic publications of many kinds have been hard at work doing both of these things. Now, as the tide is about to come in, it’s time for the next step: acceptance. Accepting the need for change right now, and letting go of what worked before in favor of embracing what could be.

“If old-school philanthropy doesn’t adapt to meet the needs of the next generation, that next generation will either leave the old school, or create a new one entirely,” insists Greer. To avoid philanthropy going out with the tide, not only will we need to understand and tap into the new generations, starting with Gen Z, but we’ll also need to make an industry-wide commitment to change, to recalibrating the system for them and their new ways of thinking and doing. Large-scale change is hard, but in this case, is absolutely essential. The tide waits for no one.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

—James Belasco & Ralph Stayer,
Authors of Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead