How Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer business owners bring their generation’s attitudes and behaviors to philanthropy
Entrepreneurs are committed philanthropists, proven to be highly engaged, financially savvy and generous with both their time and money. In our report Entrepreneurs as Philanthropists, we found that giving is a core piece of an entrepreneur’s identity, and their median household donation is 50 percent higher than their non-entrepreneur peers. Many say that owning a business has helped shape the way they approach charitable giving. The passion, strategy and hands-on approach that help entrepreneurs succeed in business are reflected in their charitable giving decisions and values.
But entrepreneurship has also changed over time as technology advances and the world becomes increasingly interconnected. Younger generations of entrepreneurs have different approaches to business—and to philanthropy—than those who came before. This data analysis extends previous research, conducted among owners and founders of businesses with at least $1 million in revenue on how entrepreneurs give, zeroing in on generational differences and digging deeper into how age and stage of life affect an entrepreneur’s approach to charitable giving.
As we look closer at three generations of entrepreneurs, the divides become clear—traditional and intentional Boomers, optimistic and active Millennials, and Gen Xers who bridge the gap, sharing qualities with the generations on either side.
Millennials, born 1980–2000, are still learning and evolving—both as businesspeople and philanthropists. As a very active and enthusiastic generation, currently they are more likely to value charitable giving opportunities that help them learn, grow or expand their sphere of influence. While they are more likely than other generations to see giving as part of their identity, they also may have lower levels of trust in the nonprofits they support and are more likely to want to be hands-on in the direction and use of their financial support.
Baby Boomer entrepreneurs, born 1946–1964, tend to be more established, and they are more likely than other generations of entrepreneurs to have founded only one business. This focused and deliberate approach to business is reflected in their charitable giving decisions. They prefer to give in traditional ways to well-established nonprofits, and they don’t feel the need to be personally involved in the organization or to make decisions for how the money is used. They trust the organizations they support to use their donations well.
Born 1965–1979, these entrepreneurs are in the middle or peak of their careers. Sandwiched between Millennials and Boomers, Gen X entrepreneurs also fall in the middle of most attributes measured in this analysis—sharing characteristics with both adjacent generations. Older individuals in the generation likely lean toward Boomer behaviors, while the younger members may skew toward Millennials.
Millennial entrepreneurs are the most highly engaged and committed to philanthropy compared with Boomers and Gen X. Eighty-one percent of Millennial business owners say that giving is a very important activity in their lives versus 57 percent of Gen X and 48 percent of Boomers. Nearly half say charitable giving is a critical piece of who they are.
As natives to a highly interconnected, digital world, Millennials want to feel a connection to causes they care about, and they are highly engaged online. Nearly two-thirds of Millennials say they would go to social media to discuss nonprofits or to alert friends about volunteering opportunities and needs.1 It is second nature to find and share information and make connections online, which could feed into Millennials’ sense of duty to make an impact on the world. While these characteristics are not limited just to the entrepreneurs of the Millennial generation, their practical impacts on philanthropy become more pronounced through the lens of entrepreneurship.
Younger entrepreneurs are going beyond simple cash donations—both personally and in their businesses—and are giving in increasingly sophisticated ways. However, 78 percent of Millennial business owners say they wish they had more guidance to make smarter giving decisions, and many are incorporating charitable giving into their financial planning conversations with professional advisors. While entrepreneurs of all generations are equally likely to work with financial professionals, 84 percent of Millennial entrepreneurs have discussed philanthropy with their advisors—versus half of Boomers. This could indicate that Millennials are approaching charitable giving like other financial decisions—strategically and with an eye on optimization.
Life stage is a strong factor in how individual donors prioritize different aspects of charitable giving, and some characteristics of Millennial and Gen X entrepreneurs could well evolve as they age, raise families, build their careers and eventually retire. However, other aspects are more likely purely generational qualities that have been molded by the technological, economic and political environment in which these individuals came of age. These are the characteristics that will endure to define the generations’ approach to philanthropy.
As Millennials age—and we wait for Gen Z to enter the landscape as a prominent philanthropic force—charitable giving will continue to evolve, becoming more social, connected and integrated into personal and professional settings. Regardless of generation, though, entrepreneurs will continue to be a driving force for philanthropy in the world. While they may approach philanthropy with varying attitudes, behaviors and values, the unique giving behaviors of entrepreneurs will continue to make an outsized impact on the causes they support.
Artemis Strategy Group, an independent research firm, conducted a research study on behalf of Fidelity Charitable to profile entrepreneurs and their values, behaviors and attitudes related to charitable giving. 3,000 adults in the U.S. were surveyed in 2018, including 708 current or former business owners. Unless otherwise noted, all results presented in this analysis focus on a subset of 288 entrepreneurs across three generations—Millennials (b. 1980–2000), Gen X (b. 1965–1979) and Baby Boomers (b. 1946–1964)—whose businesses generate $1 million or more in annual revenue. Respondents donate to charities and claimed itemized charitable deductions on their tax returns.
1“Top 100 Findings from the Millennial Impact Project,” 2015
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