Are You Willing to Trust the Next Generation?


“How about oatmeal for breakfast?” That was the question I asked my dad during a recent visit to his home. He was preoccupied and assumed I would make it like, well, just like it’s supposed to be made.

“Sure,” he responded while passing through the kitchen.

I busied myself with the simple task of cooking oatmeal. I don’t follow the instructions on the box. After many years of cleaning a goopy mess on the stove from a too-small pot, I developed my way.

That meant that as dad passed back through the kitchen and noticed me pouring oats into a dry pot and adding water, he said, “that’s not how you make oatmeal”. My response, as the confident younger generation was “I know, but I don’t follow the directions. I do it my way; they’ll be okay”.

With raised eyebrows, he replied, “okay” and went on his way.

I made the oatmeal – old fashioned oats go in the pan, add cold water and a tiny amount of salt, bring to a boil, turn the heat off, put a lid on it and walk away for about 10 minutes. No goopy mess and tastes just right to me.

My own way has been an issue from the earliest age, born very left-handed into a very right-handed family. By the time I was in my early twenties, I possessed a level of confidence far beyond what professional or life-experience warranted. Access to the vast internet at that age would have made everything a “why not?”

No Internet or Wikis

In my early twenties, I was an unseasoned executive director of a start-up nonprofit. Confident that I knew what I was doing, that my solutions were correct, and my strategies on target, I plunged into the unknown. I was fortunate to find seasoned and older, supporters early on who suggested answers to questions I didn’t know to ask.

The Donor Pie Expands and Everyone Wins

Today, I am fascinated by young nonprofit founders and executives, board members, and volunteers. I am in awe of the issues they are willing to tackle and the entrepreneurial spirit they bring to the task. This generation, so often rewarded – win or lose – doesn’t worry about a donor pie growing smaller every day with the loss of the silent generation and aging of baby boomers. They don’t see competition in new ideas and nonprofit missions. They see team players, collaborators, and partners.

Their neighborhood is the world, and the donor pie is expanding to include anyone with a credit card and access to a mobile phone. With technology at their fingertips before they could talk they have learned differently and in highly interactive settings.

If they want to know something or learn to do something, answers are only seconds away on the internet. The entire world is at their fingertips. And their donor pie includes you.

Doer to Donor

An unprecedented wealth transfer has begun for this generation. Parents and grandparents who made their fortunes, battling from start to end and tied to a market economy, are now passing wealth to a generation less likely to experience the same challenges. They will be more progressive than their parents and shaped by very different life experiences from education to vacations.

For many their wealth will feel undeserved, leading many of this generation to give back earlier with larger donations and to untested, even riskier nonprofit ventures than their parents or certainly their grandparents. They will be far more likely to challenge the system.

Research on the next generation of donors suggests they will want to be more hands-on with the nonprofit organizations they support, giving both money and time. They will look to solve problems through innovative ideas and collaborations. They will be drawn to giving together.

Young donors will be so different it will require our trust, most of it unearned, as they raise funds for ideas they believe can change the world or join others on similar journeys.

Not Dad’s Oatmeal

I served my dad, an expert on this particular breakfast staple, oatmeal my way. After several bites, he said it “ate more like instant oatmeal and needed more salt”. He trusted me enough to test and provide a critique. I am now considering a look at the directions on the box just for the heck of it.

Is there a next generation you’re willing to trust enough to make a gift or support through a nonprofit start-up? Let’s talk about it. Oh, and bring the salt.

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Do you have questions or ideas you’d like to discuss? To connect with Dawn directly click here.

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