Philanthropcapitalism: A Next Generation Take on Philanthropy

By Danielle Oristian York, 21/64

Philanthropy is a sector of society that has long been drenched in tradition and social obligation; leave the risk-taking and creativity to the capitalist masses. Today, however, the conventional definitions of business versus philanthropy have been turned upside down by a new cohort of next generation donors who are actively seeking to blur the line between these two sectors. Members of Generation X and Generation Y (or the Millennials) are under 40 and full of innovative ideas about how the worlds of business and philanthropy can work together to create an even greater good.

Social Entrepreneurship
An entirely new class of business leaders has developed out of the school of thought that being good for humanity is not only good business, but also good for business. Social entrepreneurs are defined by Businessweek as “enterprising individuals who apply business practices to solving societal problems.” Huge names in business such as Tom’s Shoes and Ethos Water are proving that profit and charity are not ideological enemies but harmonious cousins.

Evolving Way of Life
These social entrepreneurs aren’t outliers for their generation. The next generation as a whole seems to have embraced philanthropcapitalism as more than an ideal to strive for, but as a way of life.

For Traditionalists and Baby Boomers, careers were pursued in order to sustain a comfortable livelihood, with the hopes that there would be enough left over to contribute to society. Today much of the next generation seeks to follow a path where giving back and earning one’s living are pursued in tandem, not compartmentalized into completely different sections of one’s life.

Illustrating this point, a Pew Research Center study of Millennials showed that 22% of young people believe that “having a job or career that benefits society” is one of the most important things in life, compared to a mere 14% of older respondents who count that same belief on their list of life goals.

As the next generation begins to assume leadership roles in foundations and other giving agencies, philanthropcapitalism will be pushed even farther into the limelight. As leaders in philanthropy, how can you harness this generation’s enthusiasm and penchant for doing good in your work?

Danielle Oristian York is a Director at 21/64, a non-profit consulting division of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies specializing in next generation and multi-generational strategic consulting for families. She speaks and consults with families and their advisors on multigenerational engagement and empowering the next generation using 21/64 methods and tools. Danielle also facilitates trainings on 21/64’s approach to these powerful subjects.

2 thoughts on “Philanthropcapitalism: A Next Generation Take on Philanthropy

  1. In his 2007 book “The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America,” social critic Daniel Brook talks about how the days of “Ralph Nader Public Service” are largely over: work in the public sector and still maintain a middle class lifestyle (as evidenced by Nader’s notorious “neat but tattered” attire). As an example, Brook makes the point that, today, lawyers exiting law school (most with huge student loan debt) have to choose between being in effect poor and engaging in public service, or selling themselves and working for high-powered law firms that often defend companies that do not have the public interest in mind. There no longer is any “middle class” approach to public service: either you’re poor and engage in public service, or you’re wealthy enough to pay off student debt and maintain a reasonable lifestyle by working for companies that tend to act in the interest of private concerns.

    So, I agree with the author that the Baby Boomer days of taking several years off from career and working for a group like the Peace Corps, are largely over. But as Brook points out, the income gap will make it difficult for any new effective model to take up the slack. Back in 2010, The New York Times ran an article entitled “The Charitable-Giving Divide.” During that same timeframe the Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article entitled “A Charitable Divide: Gap in Fund Raising Mirrors Growing Income Divide.”

    As an aside, we invited Daniel Brook to speak to our Foundation and grantees back in September, 2010. Brook gave a thought-provoking and engaging lecture and we would recommend him as a speaker. Here’s a link to our blog post summary of Brook’s lecture:

    By the way, if I had to guess, Daniel is a member of Gen X.

  2. Great article, Danielle. Helpful when thinking about how to address different generational approaches to philanthropy.

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