[Author’s note: This article was originally prepared through my work with the The Legacy Heritage OnBoard program, as a 2018 Fellow, and as Vice President of Yad Ezra, a Kosher food pantry in Oakland County, Michigan.]


  • If philanthropy fails to adapt to new generation of givers, there is going to be a gap in giving and governance.

  • We need a different approach to giving and getting.

  • It’s time we pivot and think differently to remain relevant to avoid a gap in giving and in governance.

  • The Roadmap to fill the giving gap is to: Define the problem; Collect the data; and, Develop the narrative to connect with your audience.



“Over the past couple of decades, baby boomers have been the lifeblood of charitable giving in the U.S., their rock-steady giving fueling nonprofits' efforts to make a difference in the world. While aging boomers continue to play an out-sized role in charitable giving, research tells us their giving levels will start to decline over the next few years.” --Global Impact


Philanthropy in the US is entering a new phase.

In 1911 and 1913, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller created their own foundation to provide money and know-how in support of the social good, based on how their companies were organized.

This institutional structure has remained the predominant model for organized philanthropy for almost a century.

Ten years ago, the average American’s philanthropic activity was limited to volunteering or donating to a local nonprofit, participating in Super Sunday or a United Way Fund Drive, volunteering at the local chapter of one of the large civil-society organizations, or writing a check.  

Today, individuals can lend money to small business owners in Tanzania, rebuild schools in Haiti, or buy art supplies for a fourth-grade teacher in a rural school half a continent away.

With each passing year, more people learn about ways to contribute their dollars to various causes, not just in your local Community, but around the world, and can simply point-and-click in making their contribution without any personal connection. 

Why do we support your cause? 

In the past, donors supported organizations based on an emotional response, personal connection, and being recognized for their contribution. Today, while people may still support an organization based on emotion and connection, they want to give to make an impact.

A different approach to giving. 

Nonprofits need to start to look at the trends in how the different generations look at philanthropy and start planning to meet the needs and interests, not only of the people they serve but of the community they want to support their mission. 

For example, before making a gift, Generation X (those born mid 1960’s and late 1970’s) conducts more research into the organization. In addition to giving money, they want to volunteer, and use their volunteering as an opportunity to make social connections.

Millennials want to give “bigger, better and faster,” than previous generations. They want to solve bigger problems and support organizations that are working together to do it.  For example, if people are faced with food insecurity, chances are they also need jobs and homes and medical care.

The new generation of givers are not interested in Band-Aid solutions, they want to ...

  • Get to the root causes and solve social problems, rather than just ameliorate them.

  • See real outcomes backed by data, not just anecdotal stories.

  • Change lives or make lives better.

This new generation of givers have different priorities than previous generations. They want to support organizations that are:

High Impact | Innovation |Connected | Diversified 

In making an impact, data is driving giving.

The new donors just don’t want to write checks. They want to get involved, volunteer, sit on the board, mentor and advise nonprofit leaders, even run their own programs within the agency. They also give to organizations and causes that benefit them personally or where they have a direct relationship to the social network.


From donors to doers in disrupting philanthropy

Today, philanthropy is better informed, more aware of complex systems, more collaborative, more personal, and more nimble.

Today, peer-supported, data-informed, passion-activated, and technology-enabled networks represent the new structural form in philanthropy, and the institutions that support them will need to be as flexible, scalable, and portable as the networks they serve.

We are moving away from the old Carnegie/Rockefeller model and now to an era of donors to doers.


It’s time to pivot

It is time for nonprofits to pivot and think differently if it wants to remain relevant and sustainable.

To make your organization sustainable you have to recognize there will be a gap in giving and in governance between the baby boomers and the millennials. You only have a few more years where you can rely on your legacy donors and you can no longer rely on their children or grandchildren for support.

The giving gap

Nonprofits are starting to experience a giving gap where they are relying on legacy donors to support their organization and cannot find new donors to give at the levels of the legacy donors.


Nonprofits need to become incubators and disruptors, not just service providers

Agencies should look to Silicon Valley for a road map in helping with this transition.

Silicon Valley is disrupting the philanthropic community by adopting new ways to think about their mission and purpose.  The Valley is forcing nonprofits to become incubators and disruptors, rather than just service providers.

Nonprofits need to rethink about how they sell themselves, how they measure what they do, and what programs will attract money.

The Boys & Girls Club of America of the Peninsula -- Silicon Valley

For more than a century, the Boys & Girls Club of America has had a pretty simple mission:

Providing somewhere for kids to go after school so they stay out of trouble.

 In 2018, that mission is not enough to attract local money to the Boys & Girls Clubs.

The donors and doers of Silicon Valley favor causes that use novel solutions to “disrupt” poverty, or that can employ data to show just how many problems their money solves.

Many are fans of effective altruism, a philanthropy philosophy that espouses “evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on” rather than “just doing what feels right.” 

Peter Fortenbaugh, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP), started thinking about what his organization could do to win local support.

“Traditionally, we were a safe place to hang out, but in 2018, that’s just as important, but no longer sufficient,” he said. So he,

  • Started adding on educational and vocational training programs to prepare kids to work in Silicon Valley.

  • Launched a summer camp that emphasizes STEM learning and works with kids falling behind in reading.

  • Sent donors an annual “Report to Stakeholders,” with detailed data about impact and how what the club does now compares to previous years.

By observing his community and using the language of The Valley, while keeping to the original mission of his organization, Fortenbaugh changed the direction of the Boys & Girls Club from simply keeping kids busy after school, to “setting up kids for success in school and beyond.”


Immediate needs to impact

The Giving Code was a project started to help direct giving in Silicon Valley.  It recommends not talking about “charity” and meeting immediate community needs, but instead focusing on “impact” and getting at root causes of problems.

It suggests using the language and mindsets of business, and focusing on metrics, data, and effectiveness, rather than the language of altruism and ethics. In the case of the Boys and Girls Club, “It’s not about looking for a handout, it’s about helping [donors] achieve their goals.” 

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

Groups like food banks provide an essential emergency service to low-income people. Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties (Est. 1974) is one of the largest food banks in the nation. Currently providing food to more than one quarter of a million people every month. Despite the immense wealth in Silicon Valley, and partly due to the high cost of living, hunger and malnutrition are pervasive in the region. The Food Bank distributes nutritious food, including more fresh produce than almost any other food bank in the country, through a network of 300 nonprofit partners at 905 sites. Second Harvest is not only pursuing innovative efforts to increase access to food resources as it seeks to feed an additional 100,000 hungry people each month, it is trying to collect more data about how many people it serves in order to measure impact. To reach more people, it connects those in need to federal nutrition programs and other food resources.  Their vision A Hungry Free Community.


How can we begin to strategically pivot?

Let’s start by the way we talk about what we do, how we do it and the impact we are making.

Yad Ezra is the only Kosher food pantry in the state of Michigan and unlike any other in the United States. Most are closets that people can go into to get food. Yad Ezra is a warehouse where we purchase the food so we can provide healthy options for the people we serve and they are able to select what they want based on a point system. At Yad Ezra, we can certainly talk about our impact…


Est. 1990

1,414,700 Michigan residents are food insecure (356,930 are children)

1 in 20 individuals relies on Yad Ezra for support

16,213 individuals served

3,000 individuals served every month with care and dignity

5% the percentage of the Jewish community we seve

1,300 – Number of families served each month

1.1 million pounds of free Kosher groceries distributed to families each year

20,000,000 pounds of free food groceries distributed since it was established

150 regular volunteers

7 employees

25 years – number of years our ED has worked at Yad Ezra

1000’s of generous donors


But before we tell our story, we need to (1) define the problem we are solving and (2) collect the data to help tell it. We can then (3) use that knowledge to frame the issue and (4) inform our community and stakeholders about what we do and (5) ask them to become our partners and hold us accountable.

Finding our story

Effective brand storytelling isn’t about telling stories about the brands, it’s about bringing the audience on a journey in the context of the brand where your doers and donors are the hero not the organization. This includes:

  • PEOPLE - Describe the people we serve and the shared values we have. For example, trying to provide for their families, trying to get ahead, want financial security, jobs.

  • GOALS - What are they hoping for their lives. People are more motivated to pursue tangible benefits than abstract outcomes.

  • DEFINE THE PROBLEM - How do you define the problem we were created to solve.

  • SOLUTIONS - For maximum motivating power, show how your solutions benefit individuals and contribute to the common good.

The beginning of Yad Ezra’s narrative -
Seeing a Jewish Community Without Hunger: This is our story, the only thing missing is ‘U’

For 29 years, Yad Ezra (helping hand in Hebrew) has provided free kosher groceries to vulnerable families throughout SE Michigan and SW Ontario. It started to “help ensure that no one in our community goes hungry,” with a vision to have A Jewish Community without hunger.

Since then we have distributed more than 20 million pounds of food, toiletries, and household items to more than 1,300 families (or 3,000 individuals each month). (High Impact)

In 2015 Yad Ezra created The Giving Gardens featuring a greenhouse to grow and pick fresh food to distribute every week, complete with classes, programs and additional opportunities to engage volunteers. (Innovative)

1,414,700 Michigan residents are food insecure, 356,930 of which are children. Yad Ezra serves 3,000 individuals served every month with care and dignity, and 5 percent of Detroit’s Jewish community. Since it was founded it has distributed more than 20,000,000 pounds of free groceries.

Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.  It is a serious and growing problem among the older adult population here in Michigan. About eight to 10 million people over age 65 struggle to find, pay for, prepare, or consume a nutritious, varied, balanced diet. It’s a challenge that is expected to worsen as our population ages and socioeconomic disparities increase.

In 2018, the Detroit Jewish Federation conducted Jewish population study. It found that while Detroit's Jewish Community may be stable, it has need for social welfare and mental health services in the Jewish Community. Food insecurity also is a strong predictor of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and lung disease, also contribute to or worsen mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Seniors may also make trade-offs between buying nutritious food and paying for medical care or other necessities like rent or utilities.

Yad Ezra, by way of example, services multiple generations. This includes providing health meals for approximately 400 children in six local day schools. Yad Ezra clients meet certain financial criteria in order to qualify as recipients.


The Roadmap to fill the giving gap:

  1.  The problem. Define the problem we are solving and the impact we are making?

    What is the root cause of food insecurity in the region?
    What are the other challenges standing in the way of people who are food insecure?
    How are you working to address the social and systemic problems in the region?

  2. Data. Collect the data to help define the problem and put it in context. How do we know if we are making an impact?

    What should be the metrics by which we measure the health of the organization?
    Has demand for our services increased over the past 5 years?  Why or why not?
    Do we have access to high-net-worth-donor networks?
    Will we be able to meet the demand for services and what is that demand? 
    Are we financially secure?
    Are we finding new donors?

    Or by: Access, Efficiency, Effectiveness, & Satisfaction

    What could be the metrics for meeting the needs of our consumers?
    What is their age Primary language?
    Do they work?
    Do they own or rent a home?
    What is their primary means of transportation?

    Collect data from your Board …

    Percentage of board members who made a gift
    Total Board Giving: Sum of all gifts by board members
    Median Gift Size among the board members who made a gift
    Board volunteer hours

  3. Reporting. Once we have that data Identify metrics aligned with our existing plan and goals and standardize our reporting to the funders.

  4. Goals + Planning. Create a realistic, multi-year plan with clear goals, anticipated outcomes and stated risks. Make sure we have a plan for a clear theory of change.

  5. The Narrative. Develop a new narrative for your organization.

  6. Communications. Inform the community about the problem and local needs, share what we are doing to make an impact and give them a map to how we can succeed at solving the issue.

  7. Use a multi-channel approach. As an agency we should begin to explore new mediums to share our impact and raise new funds.

  8. Create learning opportunities. Create learning opportunities for our board and others to understand the problem and what we and others are doing to help us achieve our vison (food, job training, housing, health care, nutrition).

  9. Become advocates. We can provide a service, but we should leverage our experience to address inequalities in the system.

  10. Alliance-Building. A great way to grow impact without a large organization is to partner with other entities such as community groups, governments, and corporations. 

  11. Create a sense of community. Create opportunities to meaningful engage a new generation of people on their level and on their terms, for service, support and advocacy. 


SOURCES Consulted

The Atlantic Magazine, How Silicon Valley Has Disrupted Philanthropy, by  Alana Semuels, July 25 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/07/how-silicon-valley-has-disrupted-philanthropy/565997/

The Giving Code, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation commissioned The Giving Code to learn more about urgent community needs and the region’s nonprofit and philanthropic ecosystems. The report addresses these topics and examines the giving approach that the region’s philanthropists widely share—a code that is heavily influenced by technology and other local business sectors.


The Fundraising Effectiveness Project released their second quarter analysis of fundraising returns for over 13,000 organizations showing a 2 percent decline in the amount given and close to a 7 percent drop in the number of donors. This trend is a continuation of declines seen in the first quarter of 2018.  

Silicon Valley’s New Philanthropy,by Alessandra Stanleynytimes.com, October 31, 2015

"2016 Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector. 10" from "Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector" by William F. Meehan, Kim Starkey Jonker, Jim Collins, http://a.co/6E0I6DE

Global Impact, Philanthropy News Digest: Gen X and Millennial Women: Ready to Give in More Meaningful Ways, https://charity.org/press/news/philanthropy-news-digest-gen-x-and-millennial-women-ready-give-more-meaningful-ways

Organizations we looked at

Sova (Los Angeles) – not Kosher not a client choice pantry; MAZON; Leket; No Kid Hungry, Food Bank for NYC

GiveWell, a San Francisco-based charity-evaluating service that guides the philanthropica choices.

How Silicon Valley Has Disrupted Philanthropy, by Alana Semuelstheatlantic.com, July 25, 2018 08:00 AM