Emerging Voices in Philanthropy

by Jessica Bearman and Sarah Deming | Oct 27, 2014

Many of us have an image that comes to mind when we hear philanthropist: male, Caucasian, elderly (if not deceased), and writing solitary checks or leading an endowed foundation. Although many important givers do fit this mold, the definition of philanthropist has shifted in recent decades. Indeed, the face of philanthropy has changed in dramatic ways.

All types of people from all walks of life have given generously throughout time—but, for many, an affiliation with mainstream philanthropy is a new development. Who are today’s nontraditional philanthropists, and what makes them different?

Today’s Philanthropists

Increasingly, women, diverse racial and ethnic groups, and younger donors are claiming their spots at the table as significant givers, drawing on long-standing traditions and forging new ones.

Some have applied their inherited or earned wealth toward traditional family foundations, corporate giving programs, or donor advised funds. At the same time, philanthropy is no longer just for the affluent; people at all levels of wealth are pooling their resources to achieve more impact with their giving. These “everyday philanthropists” are changing the philanthropic experience by creating more democratic and collaborative forms of giving.

Says Kelly Brown, director of D5 (, a 5-year effort to bring new voices to the philanthropic table, “An important part of philanthropy’s efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion is to recognize the diversity within philanthropy itself. From peers and colleagues who are major donors to our shared causes to small giving circles in communities around the country, learning from and embracing the many ways all communities give can only strengthen our shared commitment to advancing the common good.”

In this article, we provide snapshots of some of the emerging voices in philanthropy, their motivations and giving strategies, and the ways they are influencing the broader field. Keep in mind: The brief snapshots that follow touch only the tip of the iceberg in understanding and appreciating the rich and varied motivations, strategies, passions, and concerns of these diverse donors.

Women’s Influence Is Growing

Women have always been influential philanthropists, both on their own and as part of a married couple or family. Because women commonly outlive their husbands—women over 65 are three times more likely to be widowed than men of the same age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—they often are left with ultimate control of family money. As women achieve greater professional and earning parity with men, their power as individual philanthropists also increases.

“Women behave differently from men in their philanthropic giving,” says Debra Mensch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (philanthropy. “We cannot assume that what works for men will be applicable to women.”

  • Women focus on particular issues. Studies find that gifts from male/female couples are more likely to support education, health, and religious organizations when the wife is responsible for the decision.
  • Women give more—nearly twice as much—when they give independently from their husbands. They are more likely to give larger amounts to fewer organizations.
  • Women give time, talent, and treasure. They volunteer in greater numbers than men, and they give to organizations with which they have engaged directly.
  • Women give relationally. For many women, philanthropy is a personal and social activity. Women are often drawn to giving structures such as giving circles or other forms of collective giving that allow them to give collaboratively.

Next Generation Donors Have Much to Give

Millennial philanthropists (donors born between 1980 and 1996) give at high rates and demand more from their giving experience. Over the next few decades, The Wall Street Journal estimates that $30 trillion will pass into millennial hands, making these donors a mighty philanthropic force. Although they may not be wealthy now, they are establishing giving habits that will shape the future of U.S. giving.

  • Giving comes naturally to millennials. In 2013, according to The 2014 Millennial Impact Report (, 83% of millennials gave a financial gift to a philanthropic cause. Millennials are steeped in the Internet and transact much of their business online, including giving.
  • Although many millennials can’t yet give large sums, they are eager to see their contributions achieve tangible results. They favor socially conscious, globally minded charities and are concerned with civil rights, responsible business practices, and environmental protection.
  • Millennials have expanded the definition of what it means to be engaged with an organization or a cause. In addition to time, talent, and treasure, they also contribute voice—advocating and educating about causes—and network—capitalizing on personal and professional connections to create change. Like older donors, millennials are more likely to give—and give more—when they are connected to an organization.
  • Millennials use varied strategies, assets, information, and tools to achieve impact. According to 21/64 (, an initiative focused on next generation donors, “If making an impact requires taking risks on start-up organizations, boundary-blurring hybrids, or nontraditional vehicles, they are prepared to take those risks. If it requires impact investing, microloans, or collaborative giving circles alongside institutional grantmaking, they are ready for that—even excited.”

Communities of Color Give Back—and Forward

Communities of color have intensified their giving in recent years. According to Cultures of Giving, a report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 63% of Latino households now make charitable donations. Nearly two-thirds of African American households donate to organizations and causes, to the tune of $11 billion each year, giving away a 25% greater share of their income annually than white donors. Asian American households also give away a larger percentage of their income per year than whites.

African Americans—African American philanthropy is deeply connected to long traditions of supporting neighbors and giving back to community.

  • African Americans give more of their discretionary income to charity than any other racial or ethnic group. Women are at the heart of that giving, both in money and time.
  • The African American community has a long tradition of generosity and mutual aid. Individual and institutional philanthropy often focuses on giving back to community organizations that were crucial to African American donors as they were growing up—and that work to lift up others in the community.
  • The church plays a significant role in African American philanthropy, serving as a vehicle for giving, a catalyst for volunteering, and an inspiration for good works.

Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders—The growth in philanthropy by Asian Americans parallels a surge in the Asian population in the United States.

  • Asian cultures have strong traditions of philanthropy, typically involving donations to relatives, neighbors, churches, and business associations.
  • Asian immigrants have not readily embraced the Western practice of giving via large philanthropic institutions. “Not one Asian language has a word for ‘philanthropy’ in the way that it’s practiced in the United States,” according to Peggy Saika, executive director of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (, which supports a network of Asian American giving circles. “We’re trying to build not just the practice of philanthropy in different communities but also the consciousness of it.”
  • A new wave of affluent Asian Americans has been exploring institutional philanthropy (endowed foundations and other traditional structures), a concept that runs counter to the traditional Asian practice of giving directly to family members or local groups or businesses.

Latinos—By 2039, more than one-quarter of the world’s population ages 18–64 will be Latino. As demographics shift, Latino donors will become even more influential in the United States and abroad.

  • Latino tradition shapes giving practice. It includes the use of extended family networks to help individuals in need, donations of time and money to the Catholic Church, and mutual assistance associations that promote and enable community survival.
  • Many Latino donors contribute to the communities they have left, greatly enhancing community resources in their hometowns. For example, organized “hometown associations” send more than $9.3 billion each year to support schools, health facilities, and community infrastructure in Mexico.
  • Latino philanthropy concentrates on education, health, and arts and civic activity, with priority also given to funding for legal services and programs related to civil and immigrant rights.

Native Americans—Although Native Americans have the highest poverty rates in the United States (25.7%), they have great potential for philanthropic giving and a long tradition of it, which is only now being recognized.

  • Native American businesses have increased 100% in the past 20 years, and Native Americans contributed $12 billion to the nation’s economy in 2010.
  • Native American giving is centered on spirituality and family, with most Native Americans focusing their giving on organizations that serve members of their specific tribal communities.
  • Over the past 20 years, many Native American communities have been forming partnerships with other Native communities and non-Native organizations as a way to achieve self-sufficiency and leverage human and financial capital.

Everyday Givers Have Extraordinary Impact

Most U.S. charitable giving comes from individuals— nearly 72% of all U.S. giving, or more than $241 billion in 2013. Many are everyday givers who give in modest sums by responding to requests, volunteering and donating to organizations they care about, writing checks or clicking “Donate Now,” and—increasingly— pooling donations to give more strategically.

Online giving platforms, such as Kiva, Donors’ Choose, and Kickstarter, aggregate often small donations from donors across the country and around the world. From the comfort of home, an individual can review and assess projects and direct funds to those that seem most compelling. In 2013 alone, Kickstarter donors pledged $480 million, or three times the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Writes business reporter Katie Morrell: “The fundraising goals that participants set tend to be relatively small and tightly focused—a few hundred dollars to finance a job search here, a few thousand to start a neighborhood garden there—but technology is expanding the reach of both donors and recipients, and trend-watchers believe charitable crowdfunding is here to stay.”

Meanwhile, giving circles and other shared giving vehicles are also growing exponentially, engaging donors in learning and giving journeys often focused on making significant gifts to nonprofit organizations within a community or region—or internationally.

Giving circles were originally seen as appealing particularly to women because they are social and collaborative. They are now recognized as a powerful form of philanthropy for any community of donors, and have grown in popularity within communities of color and other identity-based groups. Not surprisingly, giving circles appeal to young donors and those with lower income levels, because they create an opportunity to leverage limited dollars and have a larger impact.

Connections and Implications

For many funders, the idea that philanthropy is changing holds no surprise. Family philanthropy, corporate philanthropy, and community philanthropy already reflect changing demographics as younger donors join family boards; women and people of color lead philanthropic organizations; and donors of all types direct their personal wealth toward public good. To paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo: We have met the new philanthropist, and she is us.

At the same time, emerging voices in philanthropy still struggle to be heard. Existing grantmakers and established donors can seize the opportunity to amplify their impact by learning from these new giving styles, motivations, and passions. Here are some key questions to guide your journey.

  • As you look for collaborators in your funding efforts, how might you appeal to diverse philanthropists?
  • As you consider adding new members to your board and leadership, how can you bring new voices and perspectives to your work?
  • How can you take full advantage of the perspectives and passions of individuals already affiliated with your giving?
  • How might you mentor—and learn from—younger philanthropists?
  • Are there ways to seed the growth of new philanthropy, philanthropy education, or community support for emerging donors in your region?

Jessica Bearman supports philanthropists and other mission-based organizations through facilitation, research and development, and strategic planning; she previously managed New Ventures in Philanthropy, an initiative to grow new philanthropic giving across the country. Sarah Deming is co-chair of the Moscow (Idaho) Women’s Giving Circle, a collaborative giving fund that engages 80 women.



Women Moving Millions—This global initiative catalyzes and supports women in gifting $1 million or more to improve the lives of girls and women around the world. The network invites women to step into their power and raise their voices through their resources.—This millennial-led, millennial-focused organization convenes next generation activists to identify problems and propose solutions, and provides seed funding and leadership resources to launch millennial-led projects.

Community Investment Network—This network of African American giving circles has engaged donors at all levels of wealth in democratic, engaged philanthropy focused on funding organizations that empower and uplift the African American community. 

Korean American Community Foundation—KACF seeks to mobilize Korean Americans to embrace a strategic and collective culture of giving and, with funds raised, support not only the Korean community but all communities to empower the lives of individuals, strengthen families, and transform communities. 

Destino Hispanic Legacy Fund—The Hispanic Legacy Fund at Ventura County Community Foundation was launched in 1996 as the only permanent endowment of its kind dedicated to meeting the needs of Ventura County Latinos and strengthening the countywide Latino community.

The Potlatch Fund—“Potlatch” is the Chinook word for the Native spirit of gift-giving. True to its name, the organization works to expand and inspire philanthropy for and by Native American communities across four states in the Northwestern United States. 

Read about more trends, on our blog.


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