The Next Generation

(This is a guest post from Sharna Goldseker,
Director, 21/64 & Vice President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Sharna Goldseker

I’ve been working with next generation funders for a little over a decade now–specifically at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies for the last six years– and never have I seen such a collective representation of younger funders than at the Council on Foundations’ (COF) Summit these past few days. Our next generation philanthropy division, 21/64, has been working with Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and Resource Generation to plan the first-ever Generational Leadership Program at a COF conference. From a Next Generation Retreat to Emerging Leader Salons, COF gave us the opportunity to create a track of sessions that would be relevant and meaningful and challenging to next generation funders as well as grantmaking professionals.

At Monday morning’s plenary, where AmericaSpeaks led a town hall meeting, I discovered just how many next gen and emerging leaders were attracted to this year’s Generational Leadership Program and other innovative Summit sessions. A quick demographic poll indicated that 17% of the people in the ballroom were between the ages of 20-34 and another 23% were between the ages of 35-44. Assuming that a few Gen Xers and Yers didn’t wake up for the 7am breakfast plenary, 40% of the nearly 3,000 people in attendance is quite a turn out.

At Monday afternoon’s Philanthropy 2.0 session, a standing room only crowd listened to Joe Green, Founder of Facebook Causes, Tom Gardner, Co-Founder of The Motley Fool/Foolanthropy, Rupa Modi, East Coast Development Manager of, Charles Best, Founder, and Michael Smith, Director, Social Investments, The Case Foundation all took turns highlighting their web-based philanthropy applications and the power of those sites to have social and economic impact.

Facebook Causes has mobilized 12.5 million people to sign on to the Save Darfur Campaign, Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign and others. has galvanized 270,000 lenders and $28 million in investments in 40,000 micro-entrepreneurs around the globe. DonorsChoose has catalyzed 70,000 donors and $26 million invested in 1.2 million students in U.S. public schools.

Whether at the COF Summit or online, I find the mobilization of younger funders and citizen philanthropists to be exhilarating. While older generations are wondering where the next generation of leaders are, I’ve certainly seen them this week.

It seems to me, if you offer them a seat at the table, they will fill it to capacity.


  1. young staffer says:

    So glad that so many of my fellow generation members were in attendance, but, not being there, I can’t assess the next question: did the group of Next Generation leaders in attendance reflect the diversity of the nation’s “most diverse generation ever”?

    An earlier post noted that the attendees were overwhelming white and female. (In the interest of full disclosure, I myself would add no diversity in those areas…) I’m curious what the breakdown was by age bracket. It’s certainly a shame if, in the attempt to appeal to and integrate a new generation, we’re missing its diversity.


    An interesting take on the transparency issue from Todd Cohen’s publication

    Program officers are the real grantmakers
    The Insider | April 7, 2008

    [Editor’s note: The author of this column is a veteran foundation officer who wishes to remain anonymous.]

    This column is all about letting you know how it really works behind the closed doors of the philanthropic world.

    Let me explode one of the great myths – that foundation boards decide who gets funded and who doesn’t.

    With their powerful resumes and celebrity status – at least on a local level — board members of non-family foundations just don’t spend time discussing the merits of individual grant proposals.

    Not infrequently, we get asked by applicants about the makeup of our various boards and their interests and eccentricities, and for their home and business phone numbers.

    And we play along and laud the power of the board to make or break the applicant’s dreams.

    But let’s get real: Ninety-five percent of your chances of getting funded rest with the individual program officers and whether they want to move you forward in the process.

    In the best philanthropies, the program officer is actively and accurately interpreting and driving some broader strategy or vision to the community and its leadership.

    At an average foundation, the program staff sits back and plays innocent and always defaults to the multiple versions of: “Well, we won’t know until the Board meets” or “I love what you are doing but I just don’t know how the board will react”.

    At the most pernicious philanthropies – and there are many, irrespective of size — the program staff is something like the doorman at the hot dance place who looks you over and quickly decides whether you meet the sight-and-smell test.

    And what might get you into the club, or get you left out it?

    * Your effusive praise of us

    * Your language skills, depending on whether they are good or bad.

    * Your university or church affiliation.

    * The size of your organization

    * Maybe the mere fact that the program officer doesn’t know who you are as an applicant or an individual.

    And none of these selection criteria have anything to do with the board and its esteemed leadership.

    Foundation boards, almost out of necessity, concern themselves with financial planning, accountability and public perception.

    Unless they have some consuming issue interest or local knowledge, foundation boards feign belief in everything the CEO and program staff communicate to them regarding individual applicants.

    Many times in my career, I have played with the facts for my boards regarding applicants and their projects — sometimes to get dollars out to people I believed could do the work, and other times to kill proposals with groups I knew to be self-serving or incompetent.

    And we always get praised for bringing such great information to the board and having our hands on the pulse of the community.

    The key then is not to try and pull strings with the board members; it just doesn’t work very often and makes the foundation staff furious.

    The key is to try and figure out what turns the program staff on — especially those who like to think of themselves as rainmakers.

    For foundation boards and CEOs, the challenge is to hire and promote the best talent available.

    This doesn’t happen very often. Next time I’ll talk about why.

  3. Sorry your comment got stuck in the spam filter. It is now posted. I actually think it is very, very good for program officers to be the real decision makers. But of course in a perfect world they would make decisions based on which nonprofits could do the most to further the foundation’s mission.