Legacy Magazine: Multigenerational Giving and the Pandemic’s Silver Lining

Jewish Community Foundation Los Angeles Naomi

by Naomi Strongin, Vice President, Center for Designed Philanthropy

Earlier this year, I met with a family that has three children in their 20s. For this family, philanthropy is a given, and they tend to support causes that honor the legacy of generations past. But their kids hadn’t been as interested in these philanthropic pursuits, focused instead on the competing priorities of school, jobs, friends, and extracurricular activities. Despite the parents’ attempts to engage them, philanthropy was never a priority for any of the three children.

Why Millenials Give

In her book with Michael Moody, Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving, Sharna Goldseker speaks to the top three reasons for giving among the next generation of donors, namely millennials. She explains that they are supporting a mission or cause that fits with their personal values, fulfilling their duty as people of privilege to give back to society and seeing that their contribution is making a real difference and the organization has impact. She says: “As these people are entering the working world and gaining more resources, they are caring about values more than valuables, and they’re making choices in alignment with those values.”

When the pandemic hit, these reasons for giving that Goldseker discusses became top of mind for many young donors. Loss of jobs, homes, and access to food, alongside the overcrowding of hospitals and inequitable healthcare, were all over the news. COVID-19 brought longtime economic and social inequities to the forefront, and that was before racial injustice returned to center stage with the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others.

Studies show that engagement of the next generation in philanthropy is front and center for many parents and grandparents who are looking to the long-term future of their family’s giving.

Aligning Family Values

A switch went off for the three young adult children I worked with as they watched these events unfold. Almost overnight, they seemed to gain a clearer understanding of their ability and position to make an impact. Practically in an instant, the family’s conversation shifted from how to engage our next generation in philanthropy to how to align our family’s values to give to causes, as a family unit, we all feel good about.

This shift is not unique. The past year has changed us all, too often upending everything we thought we knew. But some silver linings have emerged, and one of them is the emergence of youth and young adults as a fledgling philanthropic force, more eager than ever to help the most vulnerable populations in our community.

This development comes at a critical juncture for many families, too. Studies show that engagement of the next generation in philanthropy is front and center for many parents and grandparents who are looking to the longterm future of their family’s giving. And the potential of this generational changing of the guard is vast: a 2014 report by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College estimated that $59 trillion will be transferred to the next generation between 2007 and 2061, the largest wealth transfer in US history. Given this data, how can we ensure not only engagement by future generations but also confidence in how they will allocate funds and ensure our legacy?

The Foundation Can Help

For decades, the Jewish Community Foundation has worked with families grappling with intergenerational questions and challenges just like this. During my 12 years working at The Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy, a significant part of my role has been guiding donor families, many composed of two, three, and even four generations, on questions related to giving as a family unit. This past year, younger generations have stepped up in unprecedented ways, aiming to direct their resources toward the mission of tikkun olam, repairing our broken world.

Silver Linings

For all of the pain and suffering caused by the pandemic, this past year has provided a unique opportunity for families to come together to discuss how they want to make a difference in the world. It has created a gateway of sorts to begin discussing some of these challenging questions in order to work as a single unit to alleviate the pain and suffering of others.

Multigenerational giving is not easy, and to do it effectively requires commitment and flexibility. Our team of trained experts at The Foundation is poised to work with families as they begin or continue their journey to help bring greater peace and justice in our community — L’dor V’dor — from generation to generation.

Some ground rules for a successful family discussion about philanthropy:

  1. Listen

    While family dynamics can be complicated, interest areas may differ, and core values may not align, each family member, no matter their age or stage of life, deserves to be heard. Listening to one another with respect and without judgment can lead to important, honest, and meaningful conversations.

  2. Find Common Ground

    There will be many issues where family members will differ. One family member is interested in supporting Jewish causes; another sees childhood poverty as a top priority; and yet another is focused on environmental causes. There are ways to critically examine values and priorities to find areas that do align.

  3. Consider What’s Important

    Consider what is most important to you and your family. For some families, fulfilling the legacy of past generations rises above all else. For others, the interests of future generations matter most. And still for some, the impact of the dollars, no matter the particular cause, is what resonates. Through meaningful discussions, families can pinpoint their core values and the best way to act on those values and find common causes to support as a family unit.

  4. Work With Experts

    Work with experts to consider your options. At the Center, we have guided families in a number of ways. Some families choose to create a formal family foundation with an overarching mission and vision that will continue for generations to come. Other families have chosen to open individual Donor Advised Funds for each of their children and grandchildren so that each one can choose how to give. And many more fall somewhere in the middle — engaging family members in conversations around philanthropy at the Thanksgiving, Shabbat, or Passover tables.

This article was featured in The Foundation’s Summer 2021 Legacy magazine.