An Intergenerational Internet Connection

This is a guest post by Sara Hall of New Philanthropy Advisors. See her prior posts Kitchen Table Philanthropy, Six Principles of Women’s High-Engagement Philanthropy and What Kinds of Support Do Women Philanthropists Need?

By Sara Hall

Today I was sorting through the piles on my desk and came across Sean’s recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Philanthropy’s Information Revolution. In it, he speaks convincingly about the possibilities inherent in an online world where “philanthropy is improved exponentially as more information is shared about which social-benefit efforts work—and which one’s fail…” I thought it was a terrific article and had actually cut it out, an archaic act in an age when most of us electronically store or share articles of interest. Rereading it, I found myself wondering if the women donors I’ve talked about for the last three days would have found it useful and found myself thinking of the eternal befuddlement of my mother when confronted with Google. Which led me back to last week’s Fidelity Report.

Sarah Libbey, President of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, describes women as playing a significant role in shaping the future of philanthropy, partly because they “increasingly create their own wealth and become the beneficiaries of wealth transfers because they live longer. As a result, women are stepping up to take on more philanthropic leadership roles.” It was this last bit of information that caught my eye, especially the suggestion that many women assume leadership roles as they are getting older.

But also in the Fidelity Report was the following finding: of the four categories of charitable donors–Mainstream, Empathetic, Reactive, and Pioneering—the category of donors described as Pioneering most closely fit the profile of someone who would use the kinds of online resources Sean described in his article. The Pioneer was “more likely to contribute to organizations that are less well known or support new causes” (likely discovered on the internet), and the Pioneer showed the “greatest use of credit cards for donations” (also likely on the internet). And guess what. Pioneers were listed as the youngest donors of all four categories.

I don’t want to overstate my point that many older people are less than internet fluent, but I think there’s some truth there. I’m hazarding a guess that the Fidelity data on youth and likely internet use in Pioneer donors is, in part, a reflection of this generational gap. But how can we bring the vast resources of the internet to the very women who will be shaping the future of philanthropy when a significant component of them are assuming leadership roles in their later years?

Remember Principle #6 from my list on Wednesday? “Women use their philanthropy to enrich family life and promote connection…” Who, in a multi-generational family, can Google anything, anytime, and come up with a wealth of information in the time it takes to pour a glass of milk and slap a cookie on a plate? Any child or grandchild from fifteen to forty-five. And I’m guessing that the older women Libbey describes as assuming philanthropic leadership roles have around their Thanksgiving tables a crew of internet-savvy children and grandchildren.

If uniting a family in a shared philanthropic endeavor is high on the list of priorities for women donors, what could be better than to call on the special expertise of a younger generation to bring Sean’s Information Revolution to the family’s philanthropic mission? Now obviously there are children and children. Some are gangly teenagers just getting a driver’s license, and others are middle-aged parents (in which case grandchildren might be the best recruits). But the pleasing dynamic of being called on by a beloved matriarch for your special expertise has to be a gratifying experience for the child, especially if the child is invited to be creative and resourceful. And recruiting the skills and enthusiasm of your grandchildren for a shared mission gratifying for the matriarch.

In the social innovation world, we delight in elegant solutions that solve multiple problems with one neat intervention—efficient wood burning stoves that reduce indoor air pollution and free girls to go to school, for example. Here is a tiny, homely solution to the internet fluency gap that gives important information to the person who needs it most and enrolls multiple generations in a shared mission. Sounds like a win-win.