How Your Generation Influences Your Giving - Exponent Philanthropy
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How Your Generation Influences Your Giving

The manager, a Baby Boomer, wants to schedule a meeting where she can sit across the table from her employees and discuss the latest project. Her longtime staff member from the World War II generation is ready to go, looking to share stories about what used to work well for the company. Her Millennial employees, meanwhile, have been bombarding her with e-mails sent while they are out picking up their dry cleaning and running home to feed their dog. They have questions about the project and want instant feedback on the work they’ve done so far….And that’s without adding in the Generation Xers who would rather nix the meeting entirely so they can actually work on their piece of the project. —Jennifer Gish/Women@Work, Times Union, August 27, 2012

Sound familiar? Today’s philanthropic sphere isn’t so different—up to four generations aiming to work together, with the potential for success as well as frustration. Add family to the mix, and the stakes are even higher.

Much has been written about how to engage the next generation in giving, but less has been written about how to engage across generations—about how multiple generations, young and old, can better understand one another, communicate, learn, and explore giving together.

Considering generational personalities is one way to improve our understanding of one another.

As Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman write in When Generations Collide, “The events and conditions each of us experience during our formative years determine who we are and how we see the world.”

At Exponent Philanthropy, we’ve had powerful conversations with those engaged in family philanthropy. At conferences, when grouped by generation, participants often realize that, regardless of political, socioeconomic, or religious background, there is deep commonality among those who simply grew up at the same time. Participants also come to realize that some characteristics they see in their family members aren’t unique traits but a product of their generations.

Peruse the chart below. See yourself reflected in your generation?

What about others involved in your giving? How might understanding your generational experiences inform how you give—and work—together?

Born 1925–1945 

Formative events
The Great Depression
WWII & the Holocaust
The Korean War
The New Deal
The G.I. Bill

Common values and traits
Patriotism and loyalty
Waste not, want not
Faith in institutions

Born 1946–1964

Formative events
Booming post-war economy
Civil rights
Brown vs. Board of Education
Women’s Movement
Cold War
JFK assassination

Common values and traits
Optimism and idealism
Equal rights

Born 1965–1980

Formative events
Iran Contra
Latchkey kids
Soaring divorce rate
Challenger explosion

Common values and traits
Skepticism toward government, military, market, marriage

Born 1981–1999

Formative events
Oklahoma City
September 11, 2001
Hurricane Katrina
The internet, cell phones, text messaging

Common values and traits
Realism and pragmatism
Global perspective

Source: Generational Personalities, a resource packet from 21/64

Remember, though, that generational personalities are simply one lens by which to understand one another. The framework has its limits. Case in point: At a recent workshop on technology and generational personalities, the Millennials sat at the ready with pen and paper in hand, while the Traditionalists were multitasking on iPads!


Senior Program Director Janice Simsohn Shaw currently oversees Exponent Philanthropy’s Master Juggler Executive Institute and Next Gen Fellows Program, as well as other work engaging young people in philanthropy. Janice is a popular facilitator at conferences, and she loves designing interactive, fun learning experiences. Janice previously was a small-town newspaper reporter, led Earth Day events at the United Nations, and organized a cross-country charity bike ride, among other professional adventures. 


  1. Floyd Keene

    One of the most significant posts I have ever seen on Philanthrofiles. You begin to address a topic that has not received the attention it should. Great article.

  2. Sara Beggs

    I really liked this – and learned something!

    Sara Beggs
    Senior Program Director
    Exponent Philanthropy

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