The Children of the Baby Boomers

Much has been made about the impact of Baby Boomers retiring and entering their prime “giving years”. I commented on this myself recently. However, when trying to understand philanthropy as a cultural trend, it is just as important to recognize the impact of Generation Y and the way in which they are embracing civic engagement.

USA Today ran an article on Generation Y last week. Key quote:

“They may be less radical than baby boom activists in the 1960s and 1970s, whose demonstrations for civil rights, women’s equality and protecting the environment and protests against the Vietnam War became flashpoints for their times. But thanks in large part to the Internet, this generation is much more aware of the world. And because national tragedies such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina have scarred their youth and adolescence, experts see signs these young people are creating their own brand of social consciousness.”

Since the youth of any country tend to be the trendsetters (there may be lots of Baby Boomers out there listening to iPods, but it was their children that started the trend), high intensity social engagement among Generation Y may very well translate into higher levels of giving from the Baby Boomers.

This generational back and forth goes the other way as well. Books like Silver Spoon Kids are helping frame philanthropy as one of the most important ways that Baby Boomer parents can pass on a passion for social engagement to their children. At the same time, groups like Resource Generation and websites like Youth in Philanthropy are helping the younger generation figure out how best to make a difference. These young philanthropists are learning new techniques and approaches, which they can bring back to their parents, and the positive feedback loop runs on and on.

The Second Great Wave of Philanthropy is not just about a new generation of Rockefellers and Carnegies. It is about a fundamental shift in how our culture approaches civic engagement. It is not about the new generation overthrowing the concepts of the old guard; it is about a cycle of passion that is sweeping through our cultural consciousness.