Unlike in days of yore, when folks waited until retirement before turning into tea-and-biscuits philanthropists, many newly wealthy Americans today are rolling up their sleeves and starting small- to medium-size charitable foundations when they are in midlife transition. Of the 80,000 family foundations in America, 39% are now in the hands of people aged 40 to 49, according to Foundation Source, a major provider of services to smaller foundations. These new philanthropists, the firm says, control a charitable war chest worth some $83 billion, roughly double the firepower of the giant Gates and Ford foundations combined.
When Page Snow, chief philanthropic and marketing officer at Foundation Source, started in philanthropy, the field was heavily dominated by the elderly. “Now it has become a part of this generation’s identity,” she says.
It’s not the size of the philanthropic assets in question that makes this age group so important; it’s the little-seen intellectual capital its members are building that will be so crucial to tomorrow’s society. As these 40-year-olds keep working, they continue to build their foundations’ endowments, learning by mistakes and fine-tuning their philanthropic objectives as they go. In this way, a philanthropist — as exemplified below, in the story of Seattle’s Shaula Massena — might evolve during this midlife period from a fairly passive check writer to a hyperfocused investor looking for investments that directly tackle society’s ills.