- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
New Generation of Philanthropists Aims for Social Change
An Interview with Alison Goldberg
Within the next 50 years, an estimated $41 trillion in wealth will be transferred from one generation to the next. Many people wonder: How will the next generation of philanthropists direct these resources? What impact will they have on philanthropy's future?
Alison Goldberg has a good idea. Recognized as one of Worth magazine's "25 Most Generous Young Americans," Goldberg has served as a trustee of her own family's foundation since she was 23. Now in her early 30s, she and co-author Karen Pittelman have released a book, Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy: The Next Generation (Soft Skull Press, 2007). The book was produced by and based on the work of Resource Generation, a New York City-based group of young people working for social justice.
In the book, Goldberg and Pittelman provide the next generation of leaders with tools designed to help transform family philanthropy -- making more resources available for social change. These tools teach philanthropists how to distribute resources and power more equitably among the activists and organizations they are trying to help -- which, in family philanthropy, say the authors, doesn't often happen.
We spoke with Goldberg about the book, and what lessons can be learned from young philanthropists working toward social change.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: A couple years back, we started to notice more and more young people were getting involved in family philanthropy. They asked questions about how they could engage in philanthropy in a way that made sense to them.
We also read the statistics about family philanthropy: Collectively, family funds control over $209 billion. Yet currently only a tiny percentage of philanthropic resources support social change -- one study estimates less than 3 percent of all foundation giving. As the "next generation of philanthropists," we have the opportunity to dramatically increase that figure.
We wrote this book to give young people a set of tools to understand family philanthropy as an institution, and to start a conversation within their own family funds about social change. For the book, we interviewed 40 young people who are already doing it and making a difference.
Q: What do you mean by "social change philanthropy"?
A: In the book, we define social change broadly to mean creating a more just distribution of power and resources among communities dealing with inequality, discrimination, and injustice.
Young people walking into family philanthropy have an important opportunity to shift how resources are directed. Yet it goes beyond resources alone. One of the first lessons I learned about social change is that the people who are the real experts are those who are part of the communities where the money is going. Philanthropists can no longer remain in isolation when deciding where the resources should go; they need to involve the people they want to help.
Q: How does philanthropy's history differ from what you hope to see in the next 50 years?
A: I'm constantly reminded that, historically, family philanthropy wasn't set up to redistribute resources or power. In fact, it wasn't until the Tax Reform Act of 1969 that family foundations were even required to give any money away. Today, most family philanthropy is structured so that the public has no say in how resources are allocated. The power remains with the donors and their descendents.
This doesn't always get acknowledged in a public way. For people who want it to be about redistribution, however, it can be. In other words, philanthropists can use certain tools to redistribute wealth and power to communities experiencing poverty, discrimination, and inequality. The book tells you how.
Q: How did you get involved in social change philanthropy?
A: I've been interested in economic justice for about 20 years now. Since college [Tufts University], I've been engaged in work around issues of hunger, homelessness, community development, and international issues. I spent a year as a VISTA/Mickey Leland Fellow, split between living on an American Indian reservation in Montana and doing food policy work at the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C. It was an important learning experience for me in systemic inequality.
It was during that same year my mother endowed the Robert P. and Judith N. Goldberg Foundation, and suddenly I was part of a family philanthropy. I wondered: How can I bridge that with the organizations and communities I've been working to support? Because I have access to family philanthropy, I felt -- and still feel -- it is my responsibility to open as much of that as possible to the people I'm working with.
I also felt it was important to work with young people to bring all their resources to the table and support what they care about.
Q: Why should young people with family funds care about social change?
A: According to the Foundation Center, only 7.6 percent of family foundation funding during 2004 went to support communities of color. Even less went to low-income communities; to immigrants; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people; and women's and girls' programs.
With the intergenerational transfer of wealth, there's a lot of money that will be changing hands in the next 50 years. The next generation has a real chance to make some dramatic change. Through the work of Resource Generation, we've seen a growing group of young people committed to making this change. They are concerned with inequality and justice, and care about being more inclusive, more diverse, and more open to partnering with the movements they support.
This is clearly long-term work; it's not going to happen overnight. But we have to remind ourselves that institutional philanthropy itself is only 100 years old. We may not be able to change the past -- but we can challenge it.
Q: What about young people who don't have family funds? How can they get involved in social change philanthropy?
A: Social change philanthropy is really for everyone. Here's what I would suggest to someone getting started:
- Join in. Link up with people already doing and funding the work. Activists working on the ground level are experts on the issues.
- Pool your money. Seek out existing activist-led funds, such as the Funding Exchange, where you can learn more about different movements, and leverage your dollars to make a greater impact.
- Show up. Volunteer with organizations working toward social change. Whether you join in at a rally or help with an annual mailing, you'll learn about the issues and meet other people with similar interests. (Check Idealist or VolunteerMatch to find volunteer opportunities.)
- Reach out. Make an effort to meet people who are active in the causes that interest you -- those who are already working on the issues. Ask them for an informational interview. Be open to learning and to starting the conversation.
For more information or to order Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy, visit www.changephilanthropy.org.