Popularly defined as those individuals born between the mid-1960s and late 1970s, Generation X is the most maligned and enigmatic generational cohort of the 20th century. Often characterized as aloof, cynical and fiercely independent, Gen-Xers have been largely overlooked by charitable organizations as an active philanthropic-giving group.
Even now, as the generation enters its prime employment and household-formation years, targeted appeals tend to place more emphasis on Generation Y, or the “echo boomers” — those technologically savvy individuals born after 1980 — and the baby boomers themselves, for their obvious size and spending power.
According to a 2001 United Way Public Opinion Poll, conducted by UWA Research Services, younger investors between the ages of 18 and 34 responded more positively to charitable messages than the older baby boomers. However, survey results indicated that most had not become involved with charitable organizations, and nearly 62 percent had not even been asked to contribute or volunteer.
The stigma of the slacker certainly has haunted many wealth-holding Gen-Xers throughout their professional lives, and even though they represent the smallest of the cohorts at roughly 40 million, these cantankerous misers have demonstrated a will to affect change with unique charitable solutions.
“As individuals, they see that applying themselves and their resources as a unit is not only the way to be successful in business but the way to make a [disproportionate] social impact in the community,” says Paul G. Schervish, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.
A tough sell
Schervish notes that Generation X has been distinguished by its entrepreneurial nature and views its philanthropic endeavors in the same light.
“They are recognizing a need, a demand, that outstrips the supply of resources meeting that need or demand,” Schervish says. “They see that they will affect the rate of return on their own their investment. That is by their own skills, their own money, their own abilities.”