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Posts tagged ‘intergenerational philanthropy’

I don’t believe in NextGen!

May 24th, 2013

Richard Marker

Long time readers or those who have heard me speak are fully aware of my position on this. But at a couple of recent gatherings, a number of younger funders told me that they had never heard anyone take this position. Time to say it once more.

I don’t believe in NextGen!

Surely, you say, I jest. After all, it is pretty well-known that I work with, advise, mentor, and teach younger funders. Indeed, it is one of the priorities of my professional work and volunteer roles. I have advised many foundations on inter-generational issues, and lecture about the transformational issues which emphasize the centrality of those in their twenties, thirties, and forties.

So, how can it be that I don’t believe in “NextGen”? Let me count the ways:

1. NextGen too easily implies that one is not yet worthy to sit at the grown-up table. In many cases, that is pure nonsense. What it often really means is that the “grown-up” table isn’t ready for younger members to sit with them to make real decisions and engage in constructive deliberation.

After all, many 20’s and 30’s and 40’s! have graduate degrees, have responsible professional positions, are raising families, have started new companies or organizations, and in every other way participate as full-fledged communal or societal members. But in the non-profit realm or at the philanthropy table, someone has decided that they are the NEXT generation – not yet ready.

This was brought home to me very vividly a few years ago when I spoke at the annual meeting of the top leadership of an internationally respected non-profit. Among the distinguished ‘young” leadership they honored at that time were a 50-year-old retiree and a 48-year-old mayor. Seems that they were more than “grown up” in the rest of the world, but still relegated to the kids’ table in this group of superannuated veteran leaders.

2. NextGen too often assumes that one must speak a different language or only with and to those of one’s own age group. That is, to my mind, patronizing.

Now don’t misunderstand: in my work as an advisor to families and foundations, I often advocate that there is a time when it is crucial that generations meet only among themselves. But that is a structural question – not an age question. In today’s families, third and fourth generations can span a lot of decades.

Moreover, as one who is himself a 3rd gen in my later 60’s, I have a lot in common with many who are 30 years younger than I, and a lot in common with their parents. Which room should folks like me be relegated to?

To be sure, there is education, world experience, career aspiration, and age appropriate angst more characteristic for those of each age. But we need to be careful not to assume that age must be the only primary defining category. [See #1 above.]

In addition, why shouldn’t interweaving of ages be a normal and even constructive part of life? Mirele and I regularly invite people of all ages to our home. We are enriched by a normalized conversation among those of differing ages, backgrounds, interests, etc. All too often, others tell us that they only socialize with their contemporaries and are surprised by the diversity of folks whom they meet when they are our guests. Nothing wrong with having friendships with contemporaries, but it is so refreshing to have friendships that are not limited to homogeneity or propinquity [ask your local sociologist!]

3. Too often, NextGen is nothing more than a marketing tool. An organization wants to show that it appeals to or is bringing in the young folks. Using this term is a way to demonstrate that they “get it”, are committed to new modes of expressions [but rarely their models of community], values their participation [but rarely their values], and are bridging the generational divide. Some organizations really do get it and are appropriately re-inventing themselves; far too many others, though, simply confuse branding with substance. Declaring that you are NextGen friendly doesn’t make it so.

4. Most important of all: NextGen really is THIS generation. The world has changed. Our categories have changed. Our daily experiences have changed. How we get information, communicate, create communities, pay bills, educate ourselves is owned and mastered by those who have come of age in the last 15 years. As I said and wrote over a dozen years ago, those of us above a certain age are “guests in this century.” It is we older folks who are on the margins. Much as it hurts me to say it [and I work hard to keep it from being totally true], we are LASTGen. And while my peers may still control much of the money, the daily behaviors and decisions of the generations younger than we really are deciding what the world, including the world of philanthropy, does and will look like.

My issue then, as you can see, is the term NextGen itself. All too often foundations and other non-profits use the term and programs to avoid coming to grips with the real transformations that a changing world should mandate. I suspect that many of those called NextGen say to themselves [to quote a one time Broadway lyric]: “Don’t talk of love; show me – now!”

Confessions of a 60-something Next-Gen Family Funder -Re-post with postscript

September 24th, 2012

Richard Marker

About 12 years ago, a prominent philanthropist and community leader, then in his mid-60’s, confessed something to me. His father, the one who made the money and was an even more prominent philanthropist and community leader, had recently died. This scion confessed to me that until his father died, he had never deposited a check, paid a bill, or reviewed a tax return. His own children were grown and establishing themselves, yet he, for the first time in his life, felt that he was entering adulthood.

That story isn’t mine, but could easily have been my mother’s. The daughter of a wealthy financier, she was an only surviving child, and spoiled and coddled in a way from which she never recovered. We learned, after my father’s passing, that my mother had a similar narrative to the previous one. Despite having earned two degrees from an Ivy League university, she simply was never willing to pay a moment’s attention to money – or any of the responsibilities surrounding it, including philanthropy. The narrative of how her father’s charitable generosity interfered with her childhood life was an all too frequently told story. This continued to her death since, after my father died, I then managed all of those “nuisance” details such as bills, deposits, banks, taxes, etc, until she too passed away. The difference between the gentleman mentioned above and my mother is that she was never able to deal with those vicissitudes of adulthood.

As you can gather, I am thus a 3rd generation philanthropy person – one who has seen and been a part of the great gratification that philanthropy gave my grandfather, and the less benign feelings of my mother. As one who now advises and teaches many family funders, I have become aware that, give or take some details, my third-generation story is not so out of line with many others. But, what makes it worthy of comment is that, while it is not unique, it is also not very typical for people of my generation. In fact, it is a more common story among the large number of 20-40 year old next-gen’s [a phrase I really dislike!]. Probably it is not so surprising how many of these younger folk confide in me, seek my advice, or take our courses. And, when helping to mediate inter-generational misunderstanding, or helping to determine if and how succession should take place within a family foundation, I often find myself with more empathy with those a generation younger, perhaps because I experienced much of what many of them do now.

The more one is involved in family philanthropy, the more frequently one is reminded that family relationships transcend the characteristics and limits of workplace and board room dynamics. In a family, on a very primal level, every decision is personal – on both the positive and negative level. Every decision is informed by a lifetime of connections, experiences, expectations. How and when does one agree or disagree with parents, grandparents, siblings, offspring, uncles, aunts, cousins? How does one know when the reactions to a grant request are to the proposal or to the proposer? Do family courtesies mandate that one “go-along” with the founder’s preferences even when you disagree, or do family relations lead to hostile reactions to projects which really are not that far apart? What claim should legacy have when everyone has literally and figuratively moved away?

As some of you may recall from a previous posting, several years ago, I facilitated a workshop on family philanthropy for a substantial number of philanthropists from around the world. Much to their surprise, they found that the dynamics they experienced with their own families were quite consistent no matter where in the world they were from. Perhaps nothing is as consistent in philanthropy as family dynamics.

In my work and in my teaching, there are distinct challenges to establish credibility with families, and even greater ones to have long-lasting impact on the way they work. In doing so, I have certain advantages, but it took me a lot of years to fully understand them. In my youth, I personally experienced how not to do this – how money can distort and disrupt and how philanthropy can come to symbolize that dysfunction. It took me many years to know what wisdom to take away from all that. Fortunately, I have also worked with and observed many who have done this much better. And increasingly, I am seeing lots of family funders who are asking the right questions earlier so that children and grandchildren will be acculturated in healthy and productive ways and also how the founders’ themselves can behave in ways to enable thee productive transitions.

Philanthropy is going through many rapid, even cataclysmic changes these days. Some of them are changing the very landscape in profound ways; others, I am sure, will prove to be nothing more than fads. What will never change, though, is the significance that “family” does and will play in the philanthropy environment. If being a 3rd generation type has taught me anything, it is how important a role that plays. And when done well, it can be one of the greatest experiences a family can share.


As if on cue, no sooner did I post this yesterday morning when I had two conversations which illustrated these complexities. Professional discretion and ethics won’t allow me to give many details but the coincidental timing of the two within just a couple of hours was noteworthy.

Convo #1: A family member of a family foundation board told me that there is a suit involving siblings because of death-bed changes regarding the control of the family foundation. The now favored son of the founder is left with virtually full control of the foundation and has “hired” himself to be its well compensated executive director. We will withhold comments and leave this one to the attorneys for now.

Convo #2: A founder is thrilled with the commitment of his children and grandchildren to the foundation he created and, to his immense credit, wants to make sure that this commitment can be honored, the impact of the foundation maximized, and the foundation is structured to adapt over time to new and changing conditions. I have had only one brief conversation with this gentleman, but if further discussions show that the remainder of the family tells the same story [to be sure, not always a slam-dunk!], we should explore the newest cloning techniques!

Forbes, 9 March 2012

March 11th, 2012

Richard Marker


Rahim Kanani, Contributor
3/09/2012 @ 4:03PM

Philanthropy Expert Richard Marker on What Every Donor Needs to Know

In a recent interview with Richard Marker of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education, we discussed lessons that every funder must internalize, challenges and opportunities facing today’s donor community, and much more.

Richard Marker is co-principal of Wise Philanthropy™, a firm that includes: Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy AdvisorsThe Wise Philanthropy Institute, and Green Strides Consulting.

Richard Marker, an internationally known expert on philanthropy is the Founder of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education. The Academy is the oldest and most comprehensive university program teaching funders and philanthropists in the United States. In February 2007, he was recognized with the NYU Excellence in Teaching Award.

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Donor Motivation and Donor Intent

February 19th, 2012

Richard Marker

It happened again.

On the flight back from last week’s Council on Foundations Family Foundations conference in Miami Beach, I found myself sitting next to a financially successful real estate person. When he found out what I do, he lost no time in indulging 2 predictable topics familiar to those of us on the giving side of the philanthropy table: first, and not the topic for this posting, he solicited me for a pet charity. At least twice.

Second, he expressed his cynicism that people really ever give for altruistic reasons. He told me the story of a recent solicitation for a well known public charity which totally turned him off. [Admittedly, there was a generational disconnect which explained the story but that was more evident to me than to him, and also not the subject of this post] He then launched into a challenge about why, really, do people give to charity. Ego, taxes, public recognition were high on his list; doing good was pretty low.

What I find is that those who ask that question are rarely active or generous funders themselves. They, at least many, indulge that line of reasoning, i suspect, to create a self justifying smokescreen for their own reluctance to give. Or they are finance related folks who measure success by the bottom line of what one has, not by what one gives.

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Welcome to our newly revised site

February 11th, 2012

Richard Marker

Welcome to our newly revised website. You will notice that our blog is now fully integrated into the site along with other useful information, making it possible for our readers and clients to see our ideas and our services at a glance. We will also be posting periodic video clips on topics of interest.  We will look forward to your responses and thoughts, and thank you for all of the wonderful feedback we have received over the last 10 years.

NYU mini-intensive for newer funders

December 22nd, 2010

Richard Marker

Reminder to all of those who follow the blog to pass the word: there are still spaces for this January’s edition of the mini-intensive for new funders at NYU’s Academy for Funder Education, Jan 10-14 in NYC. Considered the premier university based program teaching philanthropists and foundation professionals, this January will mark the 8th edition. Typically this week long seminar attracts people from throughout the USA and elsewhere in the world.

Originally conceived in consultation with the Council on Foundations, the ASF, the NCFP, and the regional associations, the course has consistently drawn rave evaluations. It utilizes a variety of teaching methods, including case studies, and provides hands-on problem solving in an intimate and confidential setting. While it is open to all, and over the years has attracted numerous very seasoned funders, it is primarily targeted to those in their first 3 years as funders.

Please be in touch with any questions or feel free to register at

NOTE: that the 9th edition will be held in July 2011.

Après moi, la deluges? Succession questions in family foundations

July 1st, 2009

Richard Marker

In my work with family foundations, there are few matters which arise as frequently as the questions of succession. “Who”, “when”, and “if” come up all the time. Sometimes raised by the founder, more often raised by next generations, the all too frequent absence of clarity can be an open or barely hidden source of contention, resentment, and puzzlement which often gets in the way of good and open decision making, and as often taints the well-deserved family legacy of giving.

In the current philanthropy environment, it is crucial to return to core matters such as this. All too often, in the face of books and press which challenge the larger conceptual issues of philanthropy, especially given the economic and political crunch of these times, people are reluctant to raise questions like this. They may feel that their energies should be spent making sure that their philanthropy is effective, or high impact, or transformative, or cutting edge. All of that is valid, but if there is internal disarray or disappointment, it will be hard to get to those other issues in a way that is reinforcing to the family.

No single article can address all of this in depth but from my experience there are a number of issues and bits of advice which can prove helpful.
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What did I learn from the international philanthropists?

June 29th, 2008

Richard Marker

They were from Latin America, Canada, Europe, Israel, South Africa, and Australia. All of them committed to philanthropy, and all of them eager to learn. My job – to translate the transformative elements of 21st Century philanthropy [and identity] to folks who successfully mastered the 20th. I was to address the challenges of the generations.

What was so refreshing, for me, was their openness. There was much less dismissiveness and defensiveness than one might have imagined. After all, these were people who had earned the right to be leaders – in their own communities, in their nations and international organizations. They had put their time, energy, and money on the table for many years. And they were being challenged by, of all things, an American. It would hardly have surprised me had they responded otherwise – they wouldn’t have been the first group of senior funders who have wished that the world would be as it used to be, and that the organizations they built would be embraced by their offspring.
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American Exceptionalism?

June 15th, 2008

Richard Marker

Later this week, I will be in Jerusalem speaking to 100 leading philanthropists from Australia, South Africa, Europe, Latin America, and Canada. Not by coincidence, none will be from theUnited States. The sponsoring organization works throughout much of the world excluding theUnited States, so the make-up of the group is as one would have expected.

My assigned topic, intergenerational philanthropy, is one which fits easily into my realm of expertise, and it was flattering indeed to be asked to make this presentation. And, even though I most assuredly live and do most of my work in theUnited States, I have spoken on 5 continents and have had many years of professional experience working with those in other nations. Yet one of the assignments from the organizers continues to lurk. Please, they said, don’t discuss the United States.
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