“Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. Let us not speak well of it either. Let us not speak of it at all. It is true the population has increased.”
So says Samuel Beckett in “Waiting for Godot,” his bleak and hilarious play, which I thought of more than once while working on a paper (“Trading Power”) for the Council on Foundations.
My brief was to interview 15 foundation leaders, both of the “seasoned” and “Next Gen” camps and let them speak about methods the profession needs to put into play to recruit young people to the field.
Working as a journalist outside philanthropy, I had mentally put quotes around the above words but soon found they were accepted tags, just one sign of an intense focus and concern on the part of philanthropies about a shift in power.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Beckett wouldn’t recognize the gap between generations these days—which seems to stretch to the horizon—but the good news is his call for a general lightening up resonates with leaders in philanthropy.
Darryl Lester, founder and president of HindSight Consulting and the Community Investment Network, told me, “There aren’t many spaces to have conversations between generations. We’re running a relay with the baton not being handed off but tussled with.”
Also, “with average life spans increasing,” according to Sharna Goldseker, director of 21/64, a division of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies specializing in next generation and multigenerational strategic philanthropy, “four generations are above the age of 21 and interested in philanthropic stewardship and leadership at the same time. The question for the field is if Baby Boomers aren’t ready to pass their batons yet, how can Generations X and Y participate in the race?”
Goldseker, who has written extensively on generational issues, said Generation X (born between 1965-80) are the generation doomed as slackers; however, it is actually one of the most resourceful and pragmatic cohorts because they see things the way they are. Involving them could provide valuable new skills and insights that would benefit the whole team.
New leaders are here, now, if only time is taken to see them, and a clear-eyed approach is deployed to engage them.
Several people hit the theme that a younger generation communicates in radically different ways than oldsters and this has to be recognized and understood. It’s not just an age of instant information but an age of instant networking and viral communication, which benefits anyone who can get over the shock of the new.
What I found working on this piece were impressive people, with impressive ideas, dedicated to narrowing gaps while continuing to help communities.
They all refute Beckett’s opening line of his greatest play: “Nothing to be done.”
Ambrose Clancy is an award winning journalist who files with, among other publications, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, GQ and The Nation. He is the author of a novel, Blind Pilot, and a work of non-fiction, The Night Line.
Clancy authored the forthcoming Council on Foundations publication, “Trading Power.” The publication will be available at the Family Philanthropy Conference, taking place in San Diego, January 31 to February 2, 2010.