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Building Power Across Generations: Strategies and Lessons from NextGen Funders

Friday, July 17, 2020

In June 2020, SCG convened over 150 family foundation members for our first-ever 2020 Family Philanthropy Virtual Town Hall, a day dedicated to exploring family philanthropy’s role in shaping the future for generations to come. SCG is excited to elevate our Town Hall’s critical conversations to help families revisit their values and build power across generations. 

More and more, philanthropy is shifting away from its traditional, institutional practices and adopting innovative approaches to grantmaking and community collaborations. Some family foundations are beginning to entrust the future to their next-generation donors and family members by elevating their voices and empowering them to chart a new course of action for the foundation. In Engaging Generation Impact: Best Practices for Families, Michael Moody and Sharna Goldseker assert that the next generation of donors will be the most significant philanthropists ever as they inherit nearly $60 trillion with an estimated $27 trillion designated for charitable purposes over the next four decades. 

Today, we are beginning to see how nextgen donors are fundamentally transforming philanthropy. At SCG’s 2020 Family Philanthropy Virtual Town Hall, Connie Malloy, SCG Board member and Executive Director at the Panta Rhea Foundation, moderated a panel discussion with a powerhouse group of nextgen leaders including A. Sparks, Executive Directors of the Masto Foundation, Xenia Emmanuel, Director of Operations and Programs at the WHH Foundation, and Alexis Marion, Trustee, Program Officer, and Jr. Board Advisor at the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation. These leaders discussed their bold visions for their organizations and the ways they’ve begun to shift their foundation’s internal structures toward mutual interdependence across generations and with the communities they are serving. 

Below, you will find an overview of the innovative strategies these family foundations have implemented and the lessons they’ve learned in building power across generations. 




Senior family members must meaningfully incorporate the contributions and ideas of younger family members into the foundation’s work if they want to prove to nextgen members that they value their voices and opinions. When leadership ignores the input and perspectives of younger members, it signals that they are interested in working across generations. It is necessary to create avenues for the next generation to transform their ideas into tangible action, whether creating a new grant or changing an outdated application component. Equally important is publicly acknowledging the contributions of nextgen leaders to establish a record of internal impact within the foundation. 


As the pandemic progressed, the WHH Foundation decided to hold a town hall meeting for family members who wanted to get involved in COVID-19 relief efforts but had no grantmaking experience. This convening hoped to give younger family members an open platform to exchange ideas, identify problems in their respective communities, and decide how they wanted to address those needs. By providing a no-pressure space for family members to learn, the foundation was able to not only build the confidence of younger leaders around grantmaking but also encouraged them to create unique solutions that made sense for their communities. 


The Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation currently has a Junior Board member who is seven years old. To ensure that everyone in the organization has access to every document, including grant announcements and applications, the foundation has established a rule that states that if the organization’s youngest member can’t understand it, it doesn’t get used. This inclusion demonstrates to younger generations that their participation is authentically valued. Additionally, this shift towards accessibility has been positively received by Senior Board members who appreciate the elimination of jargon, the increase of visual materials, and the overall simplification of processes. 


Our nextgen panelists also shared the personal and professional benefits of finding a community of like-minded peers outside of their family foundation. This practice rang especially true for nextgen funders who felt like they didn’t often see themselves in traditional philanthropic spaces, and were eager to connect with other leaders with similar experiences, such as multigenerational, queer, had wealth privilege, and more. These networks empowered these nextgen leaders to talk more openly about their experiences and become more active and bold in their philanthropy. A. Sparks from the Masto Foundation referenced Resource Generation as an example of a group dedicated to connecting young people with class and wealth privilege to each other in pursuit of equity. 




Masto Foundation has long centered the Japanese culture of giving into their grantmaking. Before COVID-19, Masto Foundation had already shifted toward non-transactional grantmaking by replacing traditional grant reports with grantee conversations. As the pandemic intensified, they took swift action to ensure their impacted grantees felt supported and could survive. Instead of making their grantees apply for additional funds or have them reach out for support, at the beginning of the outbreak, the foundation immediately sent all their grantees checks for 10% of their current award. Masto Foundation also recognized that they had the risk capital to expand their funding as their grantees shifted toward a long-term fight. Moving forward, the foundation allows all grantees that qualify for grant renewals next year to select the trigger for their funding. If the grantee is in urgent need, they can release the funds on January 1st. If the grantee is financially stable, they can wait until next September. It was important for the Masto Foundation to live into its culture of giving and foster a sense of trust by being proactive with their support. 


The Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation shared how one of their younger members asked the foundation to be more inclusive of all gender expressions in their grant themes and applications. The foundation quickly accepted and operationalized this approach by changing all of their gendered language in their grant materials. For a specific all-girls grant, this meant shifting away from “female” to “female-identified individuals.” By sharing this simple change of language ahead of time, the foundation was proactive in including non-binary, gender non-conforming, and many others and eliminating the need for people to reach out and clarify their eligibility. 


Our panelists stressed the importance of reimagining power dynamics with grantees by fostering relationships built on reciprocity. They encouraged funders to own more of the outreach and relationship-building work. If donors don’t know how to find organizations to fund in a specific community or issue area, they should turn to their network and trust their guidance. When the Masto Foundation started exploring how they could better support Indigenous communities, Sparks jumped at the opportunity to learn from Sarah EchoHawk, CEO of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, when she heard her speak at the Change Philanthropy Conference. Sparks approached her and simply asked, “If you could fund any organization in Washington state serving the Native community, who would you fund and why?” The next day, EchoHawk connected her to the United Indian Health Institute, and their partnership began. Alexis from the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation discussed how she utilizes every avenue available to discover new grantees. Specifically, she shared how she often asks younger nextgen members who they’re following on Instagram, Discord, YouTube, or Twitch to meet nonprofits where they are. Once a foundation identifies a potential grantee, our panelists urged funders to do their research and figure out if the partnership has the potential to be successful before they call the nonprofit. 




Alexis from the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation shared a memory of when she and her peers coordinated a moment of silence for Philando Castile during a youth philanthropy conference. Several individuals in attendance were resistant to the moment of silence because it was “political” and left the space. This small act and the reaction it received were reminders of the work philanthropy still has to do. It also displayed the power and potential of even the smallest gesture to push people to grow past their defensiveness and fear.


Xenia Emmanuel described how during the WHH Foundation’s governance restructure, the organization actively convened members from different generations to have difficult conversations regarding hierarchy and cross-generational power. As a result of these dialogues, the organization successfully fostered more transparency internally and created more opportunities for future generations to get involved and take ownership. For example, WHH Foundation created new committees designed to give members greater autonomy over their operations. They invited family members from all generations to join a committee and develop new policies and procedures. 


Alexis also recommended having frequent and transparent conversations with family and Board members regarding a foundation’s annual payout and the possibility of sunsetting. The Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation no longer views the 5% payout minimum as their spending ceiling but rather as their lowest obligation. Suppose one of the foundation's staff finds an exciting opportunity to support or partner with the perfect grantee. In that case, they will allocate funds to them even if they’ve already met or exceeded their 5% payout. The Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation began to embrace this investment philosophy amid the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that their giving aligned more with their grantees’ needs instead of an annual payout rate. 

Although Sparks agreed with the other panelist about the need for philanthropy to move beyond the 5%, she shared how the Masto Foundation Board of Trustees is hesitant to entirely spend down because of the long-standing lack of racial and ethnic diversity in family philanthropy. Sunsetting for this organization would mean that there’s one less family foundation rooted in and operating by and for communities of color. In terms of promoting equity, Masto Foundation assesses their impact holistically by taking into account the relationships they are building and the people they bring along, not just the dollars they spend. Sparks encouraged the audience to consider that the manner a grantmakers funds is just as impactful, if not more impactful, than the amounts they fund. 


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