The Future of Philanthropy, Part 1: Onboarding and the Next Generation
Today’s most forward-thinking nonprofits understand that the ability to tap into the enthusiasm and energies of a committed pool of executives can mean the difference between success and failure.
Properly applied, the leadership provided by such executives can pay dividends in a number of different ways, from facilitating development opportunities to formulating strategy and from refining objectivities to clarifying goals. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how a nonprofit might truly succeed in the absence of committed executive leadership.
Yet, it appears that current demographic trends promise to make the inconceivable the new norm. While today’s future executives are no less committed to the philanthropic ideal than the current crop of executives engaged in philanthropic efforts, their commitment leans toward the subjective importance of “doing good” and away from the hard science of leadership.
Stated another way, they are more inclined toward the carpentry of philanthropy and less interested in the architecture. Consequently, the qualities and attributes that make these young executives such a rich source of potential value are not fully realized.
How might a nonprofit avoid this outcome? What steps should a nonprofit take in order to maximize the potential of the future executive? Is this new norm a foregone conclusion, or does another avenue exist? In order to answer these questions, it is important to understand today’s future executive and how a nonprofit might assist this group in realizing its potential.
Today’s Future Executive
Like many other changes, the demographic shift in executive philanthropy marks the transition from the Baby Boomers to Generations X and Y, and Millennials. Raised in the wake of American ascendancy following World War II and coming of age at a time when American interests dictated global trends, the Boomers learned leadership through necessity.
As American influence found itself exported outside the U.S., Boomers found themselves figuratively and literally charged with the responsibility of advancing that influence. The Boomers dictated changes in culture and commerce, secure in the promise of tomorrow’s affluence. These changes extended into the philanthropic realm, as the Boomers worked to establish and grow philanthropic institutions in order to address the pressing needs of modern American society.
Generations X and Y, and the Millennials have faced a less certain challenge—a challenge in some ways more arduous. In contrast to the affluence experienced by the Boomers, these generations have come of age during a period where economic prospects are far less secure. Consequently, Generations X and Y, and the Millennials ascribe to a philosophy focused more on today’s contribution and less on tomorrow’s growth.
These generations believe that setting and identifying tomorrow’s goals and objectives—the very essence of the architecture of leadership—are less important considerations than securing today, and their focus tends toward the preservation of the established rather than growth and innovation, a paradox given that these same generations have been responsible for the great technological revolution of the last 20 years.
Corporate Philanthropy, Today’s Nonprofit
In years past, philanthropy was generally considered a byproduct of private sector corporate success, an afterthought of the corporate decision-maker. Today, however, the best corporate philanthropy tends to align itself with the corporation’s business strategy in ways that pay dividends for the company and its stakeholders, including its investors, customers, communities and the philanthropic concern itself.
Moreover, by tapping into its unique portfolio of assets (e.g. physical and intellectual property, physical space, distribution networks, subject and process expertise, etc.), a company can help address charitable concerns in ways that are considerably more valuable than simply writing a check.
One of the key resources available to philanthropic entities via the private sector corporate concern is the time, effort and energy of the Millennials, the future private sector executives. At a time when Millennials are under increasing pressure to demonstrate their continuing ability to add value to the modern corporate concern, the opportunity to marry their desire to make the world a better place with the strategic designs of their employers, in an environment where they can and will be called to lead, is a natural fit.
In fact, this kind of responsibility can be a springboard for the future executive, providing him or her with the opportunity to demonstrate his or her capacity to make decisions and exercise judgment to superiors. In turn, the philanthropic concern reaps the benefits of the future executive’s passion and prowess.