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Was Steve Jobs a Philanthropist (and who cares?)

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c 2010 Barbara DeLouise

Since the recent death of Steve Jobs, there has been lots of discussion about how he changed modern culture, with all of the i-things he invented. There’s also been talk, in hushed tones, as to whether or not he should have taken some of his gazillions and changed modern life through philanthropy.

The culture of Silicon Valley and the tech crowd had been pretty mute on the topic of philanthropy, until Bill and Melinda Gates stepped it up with their Foundation in 1999. And even after that, a generation of new millionaires has not been as visible on the philanthropy scene as their predecessors like Andrew Mellon and Edsel and Henry Ford. Why? (And who cares?)

This new generation of (potential) givers is more skeptical of institutions. They are more likely to give through self-organized groups like Crowdrise than through existing foundations. If they are large institutions themselves (i.e. Gates), they may defer giving until they can create their own foundation and manage it themselves.  This is not always optimal, as there are plenty of 501(c)3’s already convened and working on the ground. But it’s the new reality of “control” we all seek through electronic and social media.  A Convio survey found that website giving increases with each younger cohort so that for Gen X it is nearly equal to mail, and for Gen Y it is greater than mail. Nonprofits with websites with videos showing demonstrable impact of donor dollars have an even bigger spike with the Gen Y donor group.  And if you’re thinking, well these young folks are pretty under-employed right now and won’t be our big donors, remember they are the Big Donors of the Future. To capture this younger generation of givers, we can’t wring our hands, but instead have to engage them where they are in meaningful, hands-on philanthropy.

How is your nonprofit engaging the younger generation of givers? How much control are they seeking over how their gifts are used? Are you finding this engagement burdensome or exciting (or both)? Please share your experiences with me for more in a future post.