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Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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Lessons For Business To Be Learned From The Young Generations' Approach To Philanthropy

“A New Generation Reinvents Philanthropy” headlines a Wall Street Journal article (August 21, 2007). Since I am continually reinventing, I am always interested to see what others are reinventing. I have also been following the philanthropic and legacy efforts of Generations X and Y and recently attended a very interesting session at the Foundation Center in New York focusing on ways to engage the younger generations in philanthropy.

The examples of what twentysomethings are doing are quite enlightening. As always they want to do it their own new way, not only in their use of technology, but also in making it about connecting with other people. Though some of the young people I heard from had substantial wealth, most others were finding ways to donate very limited assets and make them add up and become very meaningful contributions. From both the article and the seminar as well as talking with attendees, I observed several common elements in approaches for engaging Generation Y/Millennials and young Gen Xers in charitable causes and activities. This sparked some thoughts on translating these methods of engagement to talent management and retention in the workplace.

New web sites for philanthropy seem to be cropping up regularly. Many Millennials have plunged in to start their own sites for a favorite cause and masses of others have joined to contribute. Facebook and MySpace have also become hosts of many sites for social action and political causes. Here are the typical elements I noticed concerning this phenomenon.

  • The younger generations are looking for an "experience."
  • They use e-mail blasts to urge everyone they have ever come in contact with to join in. They are very open in their connections and it's all about connecting.
  • They like voting for “the person who contributes the most…” and cash awards and recognition.
  • They are drawn to compete in contests; they like competitions and prizes.
  • They prefer ongoing involvement rather than an annual event.
  • What really juices many of them is to be able to connect directly to the recipient of their contribution.

According to Sharna Goldseker, a speaker at the Foundation Center program referred to earlier and head of 21/64, consultants on strategic philanthropy and the generations, beneath the surface of much of the under 35 year old involvement in philanthropic projects is a search for their own identity.


Social networking is the #1 reason that the vast majority of young professionals say they join organizations. It is a key component of their philanthropic activities as well, as described above. This is no wonder since they have to spend long hours working. How can firms/organizations harness the energy and creativity Generation Y is showing outside of work to engage them in their work and the work environment?

What draws them to philanthropy and how they pursue it gives us some clues. Here are some ideas that come to my mind.


  • Millennials don't think they have to wait to be older and richer. They think they can make meaningful contributions right away, and they do it creatively with new methods and tools. Look for opportunities for them to “make a difference” from the start.
  • To give them first-hand experience with the ultimate recipient, organize business development activities around charities and causes and let them run with it. Be sure responsibility, accountability and recognition are built in.
  • Enable young generations to organize pro bono efforts with a say in who the recipients will be.
  • When team efforts or training are organized like a game with the prospect of winning tangible rewards, they become engaged. This can boost productivity as long as quality is maintained, which means they need to be open to learning proven ways of doing things before pushing untried ideas.
  • Keep in mind that the Gen Y way is another search for community much as Gen X did, but perhaps for different reasons and with a desire for individual attention. Gen X originally sought community at work because it was missing for them outside of work. Gen Y has been educated in a more collaborative environment and it is their modus operandi.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2007. All rights reserved

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