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?
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 (d5coalition.org), 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
“Women behave differently from men in their
philanthropic giving,” says Debra Mensch, director
of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (philanthropy.
iupui.edu/womens-philanthropy-institute). “We cannot
assume that what works for men will be applicable to
- 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
- Women give more—nearly twice as much—when
they give independently from their husbands. They are more likely to give larger amounts to
- Women give time, talent, and treasure. They
volunteer in greater numbers than men, and
they give to organizations with which they have
- 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
(themillennialimpact.com), 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 (2164.net), 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
- 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 (aapip.org), 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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.
Mobilize.org—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
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.