Millennial, high school teacher—and philanthropist of the future

How one English teacher and her husband can give us a peek into the future of philanthropy (our research proves it).

Caroline and Greg Vannatta,

In our recent look into the future of philanthropy, we uncovered the trends and mindsets taking hold among America’s donor population. One theme was clear: Millennials are as disruptive as ever. As they age into positions of increasing influence, Millennials are emerging as committed givers whose holistic, technology-steeped approach pushes the limits of traditional philanthropy.

Caroline Vannatta, an English teacher at an alternative high school, embodies these shifts in her personal approach to giving back. She and her husband, Greg, recommend grants from their Fidelity Charitable Giving Account to a spectrum of causes—but their commitment to social good goes beyond their charitable giving. The California couple also incorporates their core values into their consumer and investment choices. After all, Caroline says, “philanthropy is great, but the need for it often reveals a failing of our society to function as it should.”

To highlight one voice from this up-and-coming generation of changemakers, we’ve asked Caroline to explain in her own words.

How being a high school teacher affects her giving

“The longer I am a teacher and the more students I meet, the more intensely I want to see positive change for the sake of my students. It’s one thing to know intellectually that people are struggling, but connecting with my students, seeing what they and their families go through, makes it real for me.”

  • While the older and younger generations agree that hunger is the top challenge facing the world, Millennials are more likely than Boomers to rank access to higher education, economic development and gender inequality in their top concerns for the future.

On weaving her desire for change into everyday decisions:

“Social good and environmental concern are factors in our purchases and other decisions—though we definitely have room for improvement. My husband and I make a point to, as much as possible, buy goods that are made by companies that are committed to minimizing their environmental impact and ensuring that their products are produced by people who are paid a living wage. This is very difficult to do consistently, though, as there is often a lack of transparency and accountability.

  •  Forty-seven percent of donors overall have purchased products from a socially responsible business—but the practice is more common among younger donors, with two-thirds of Millennials doing so.

Why she thinks younger generations will change giving

“I do think my generation and the younger one (my students are Zoomers and I am an older Millennial) are more focused on shoring up our social safety net and addressing things like income inequality and healthcare access so that philanthropy is less needed. A common thread amongst my students and peers is that philanthropy is great, but that the need for it often reveals a failing of our society to function as it should.”

  • Most donors are merging the ideas of philanthropy and advocacy, but Millennials lead the trend. More than eight-in-ten Millennials say that activism and charitable giving go hand in hand.

Why she thinks philanthropy can —and can't—solve big problems

“I would like to see a situation where philanthropy is used to help those who ‘slip through the cracks’ of an already functioning society. For now, I think that philanthropy is helping to solve major issues because there is a void that should be filled in other ways. There would be less need for food banks or medical fundraising if people were paid a living wage and had healthcare, for example.

“On a global scale, I think philanthropy is necessary to help bridge the gap in quality of living and economic development. I would like to see philanthropy as an investment in building a better, more fair world.”

Why she feels optimistic...mostly

“I am optimistic that there will be improvement because I feel that popular opinion and social momentum are moving in the direction I feel is needed. I do think that optimism is important, but I think that being too optimistic can lead to inaction. We can’t let optimism over solving a problem delude us into thinking that the work is already done. We need optimism to keep us inspired, but also realism to keep us focused on the steps to achieve the goal.”

  • Nearly six-in-ten donors overall say they’re only somewhat optimistic that the world’s greatest challenges can be solved. Younger donors report more confidence; 43 percent of Millennials say they’re very optimistic.

Her advice on how individuals contribute to the greater good

“Everything helps. It’s hard to go wrong—as long as you do something. You have to accept that you’re not going to be able to address every need. Start with things that are close to your heart and take action.”

Read the full report on the future of philanthropy.

This testimonial and the statements and opinions expressed in this article are based on an interview with Caroline Vannatta who provided permission to use her name (and the name of her husband). This testimonial statement is not indicative of future programs and/or services and may not be representative of the experience of all donors. 

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