Who is Responsible for the Next Generation of Fundraisers?

Young Fundraisers.

I was reading recently about the Nexus USA Youth Summit that is held in Washington D.C. every year. Essentially, it’s a large gathering of young people, age 30 and below, that are either part of a long line in a family of philanthropists, or newly wealthy young people who want to do good in the world.

I was a little skeptical at first, thinking that it was just a group of young rich kids thinking how great they all were that they wanted to feed the homeless or something. However, as I read more and reviewed the list of presenters during the summit, I realized that these young people were seeking out sage advice from the older generation. In other words, they knew they didn’t possess all the answers (which, I admit, I feel younger adults all think they do) and were seeking out the thoughts and advice of those who have gone before them.

What was inspiring about the summit is that both the young and the old were coming together because both wanted a better world. The young wanted to receive something from the older generation, and the older wanted to give back something to the younger generation. Isn’t that how it should be?

Then it got me thinking about our profession. How active has the younger generation of fundraisers been in reaching out to their more experienced peers? And how actively have we, the older generation of fundraisers, opened ourselves to the younger generation?

A few years ago I wrote a two-part series called “An Open Letter to Young Fundraisers” and “An Open Letter to Experienced Fundraisers.” I wrote the series because I felt that the two generations just did not “get” each other. In those two letters, I give some practical advice for both generations and how to work together. But I’m still asking the question: are we doing enough?

Believe me, there are some great people who have given generously toward making our profession better, both on the local and national levels. But I still feel we haven’t quite come together.


Is it because there is a built-in propensity for competition in the major gift field? Do you, the older generation, fear you will lose your jobs to the younger, more eager folks? Are you, the younger generation, so ready to move ahead that you don’t have time to learn from those who are more experienced? Or perhaps our profession, especially in major gifts, does not have enough forums for both generations to come together?

Perhaps we need our own summit?

Richard and I agree that there is really a crisis going on in the major gift profession. It is extremely difficult to find good talent. We believe it’s incumbent upon you and me, the older generation, to ensure that our profession lives on and excels. That means we need to look beyond ourselves and reach out to younger major gift professionals and offer our mentorship, time, advice and counsel.

But it also means that you, the younger generation of major gift professionals, have a responsibility to be open to that counsel, seek out mentors and understand that you have much to learn. The older generation knows you’re eager (we get that), but we have something to give to you. Open your palms and receive it. I think the more you can do that, the more we older fundraisers will seek you out.

So who is responsible for the next generation of fundraisers?

You are.


P.S. Richard and I would love to hear from the Passionate Giving community of readers what you are doing to bridge these two generations together and have you share your stories with us.



  • B. says:

    I too was curious about what was accomplished at the recent Nexus event and was pleased to see that it was a topic for your blog today. However I must comment on your somewhat sarcastic toned “to feed the homeless or something” comment. As a major gifts officer for a food bank, I don’t think it’s something you should be so flippant about. It is unfortunately an ongoing concern in our country/world and not an issue that should be so easily dismissed. If these philanthropists – both young and old – really want to be agents of change, taking care of basic human necessities would be an ideal place to start.

  • Excellent points. One of the membership benefits of ALDE (the 700-member association that inspires, connects and equips Christians for excellence in philanthropy) is a mentorship program. ALDE carefully pairs seasoned professionals in fundraising or non-profit marketing/communication with newer folks requesting a mentor. ALDE has found that these relationships are mutually beneficial, as the newer folks are able to be a resource to their veteran mentors on topics such as social media, Giving Days, young donor acquisition, etc. It’s exciting to see the momentum created for both mentor and mentee!

  • Deidre says:

    I regularly reach out to my colleagues to have coffee and talk about issues. I also do this with all new people who join my organization, including the junior officers, and have started to reach out a bit more broadly than just in development. For starters, I understand the whole organization a lot better by doing this, but I can develop friendships across campus, and it also puts me in a position to help others with issues that they have. Two years ago, I made it a personal goal to reach out and support particularly the young women in the organization. While I don’t officially or unofficially mentor anyone, I am sought out now for advice and to think through situations much more than before. It’s very rewarding.

  • Sara says:

    I think another part of this collaboration to take into account is that a lot of “experienced” MGOs have found this as their second career. Not only do they have a few years in the NPO world, they also bring their skill set from a management, sales, marketing, HR, accounting…whatever-it-may-be background. With the younger crew or people like me whose career initially started in the NPO world and so far has stayed there, there is additional value in learning from people who are in our arena, but once looked at us from the outside in.

    I sat in on the first meeting of a non-profit forum within a local chamber of commerce yesterday and instead of this group being another network and then have a mini-educational moment meeting crowd, we want to come to the table with our problem areas within our job. We want to have a sounding board to troubleshoot, brainstorm on ideas, help share resources, and truly uplift the folks who are the boots on the ground in the NPO world. While the point of this group isn’t to create a happy intersection of generations, it naturally happened because I think the larger issue is that many MGOs feel they do not have enough support within their own organizations to be successful and they seek additional help from other MGOs. And maybe, just maybe, we can impart some wisdom, young or old, to help one another.

  • Kendria says:

    I’m one of those “younger adults”. In my experience, it’s not that we “don’t have time to learn from those who are more experienced”.

    Many seasoned MGOs are stretched pretty thin. Their goals are ambitious and their time is money. They are (often) the ones who don’t have time. Can you offer some tips on how can I make it worth their while to spend time mentoring/sharing with me when the opportunity cost is so high? (They could spend that hour making thank you calls to donors, researching prospects, or simply recharging their own battery.)

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