Philanthropy and Generation X

I had lunch today with Gary Zeff who runs Boulder Open Studios. In addition to talking about Open Studios – which is a very cool thing for the local Boulder art community – we got into a long discussion about why my generation (Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980) is so light on the philanthropic scene.

My wife Amy and I have been very active with our philanthropy for the past five years. At some point, we realized that – at least in our community (Boulder, CO) there was a surprising lack of philanthropic focus. This was even more ironic since Boulder County has a population of 300,000 yet purportedly has over 1,000 individual non-profits (or – one non-profit per 300 people).

We’ve been strong supporters of one of the organized meta-non-profitsThe Community Foundation Serving Boulder County. When we got involved, it surprised me that many of my cohorts both didn’t know about The Community Foundation or – if they had heard about it – weren’t terribly interested. The Community Foundation spawned two organizations – Boulder County Culture of Giving and Social Venture Partners Boulder County – both of these were more accessible to my fellow Gen-Xers. However, it was still hard to get my generation to engage.

At lunch, I said out loud for the first time that I think it’s a result of the values instilled in us from our parents. Many GenX parents are not baby boomers (1945 – 1960)(e.g. my folks were born in 1938 and 1942). They are children of depression era parents. It’s a complicated lineage, but it’s one that missed the 1960s ethos by a few years.

I came across a great article on this called Generation mY: Not Seeing your Xer Garden Grow? The telling paragraph is:

“This generation as a whole can’t see the need in making an annual fund gift while they are paying back a student loan, buying a house, or starting a family. Most development officers have picked up on this to some degree and have written Xers off- because hey, the development officer will probably be on to several more posts before it is a real issue for them. Wrong! Case in point using college and university trends: most schools are graduating larger classes of students, so if the institution hasn’t already realized it- the young alumni crowd is quickly becoming the largest segment of the alumni body and alumni non-participation in giving is eating away at those participation rates we all like to tout so much.”