Where public good and values intersect

This article was originally published on November 9, 2016 in The Hamilton Spectator.

Few of us would call ourselves philanthropists. Even fewer young people are likely to describe themselves that way.

Government data seems to support that notion. Statistics Canada reported in 2013 that 82 per cent of Canadians donated to charities. However, just 17 per cent of them were between the ages of 25 and 34. Thirty-five per cent of all donors to charities were 55 or older. The top 25 per cent accounted for 84 per cent of all donations.

These numbers are troubling, if we measure philanthropy in dollars alone.

Philanthropy could be defined more broadly as the love of humankind in the form of time, talent and treasure. A key factor is how we channel our resources and efforts, and draw on our networks to further the causes we care about.

Philanthropy is the sweet spot where public good and personal values intersect. Through this lens, it is clear that young people are redefining what that looks like. Having the ability to see the impact of their donations holds significant bearing on their decisions to give, more so than older generations, says a report on next-generation Canadian giving published by Blackbaud, a software company offering technology solutions to nonprofits.

Young people are motivated to give because they believe in a cause or issue, rather than more general support for charities. This explains why peer-to-peer fundraising is higher among Gen Yers (loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 1995) compared to previous generations. It draws on social ties and networks — and young people view their voices and networks as assets in supporting a cause, according to a four-year study on millennial impact by Achieve, a market research agency.

Social media connects people to causes, builds relationships and allows anyone to share their interests. Yet nonprofits do not always know how to leverage social media because they may be unsure of how it powers social change, say Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, authors of “The Networked Nonprofit.”

So what can we do to engage and nurture the next generation of philanthropists?

Nonprofits can connect young people with opportunities that offer meaningful leadership and professional development skills. They can also better leverage engagement channels, including social media, to play a stewardship role and generate conversations about social change efforts.

Employers also need to encourage volunteering and giving back in order to cultivate a culture of social good. By doing so, they build a socially responsible organization supported by a more engaged and fulfilled workforce.

As young professionals, we need to reflect on our values and look at our assets as a whole — not just our finances — to discover how we can make a difference, in our own way.

As we celebrate National Philanthropy Month, let’s each look at what we can give and offer to better our community.