Can the Philanthropic Ambitions of Baby Boomers Meet Those of Gen X and Y?

This article originally was published on Practice Development Counsel. Read more generational articles by Phyllis Weiss Haserot
As professionals and executives become more senior, there’s often a desire or expectation that they will want to devote themselves to "good works" as a legacy. Leading-edge Baby Boomers, tracing back to their formative years in the 1960s, started out as a generation to be socially conscious, involved, and eager to make significant contributions for a better world. As they matured and became intensely immersed in their careers, often achieving substantial recognition and financial success, some have been well on their way to fulfilling their "legacy bucket"; others have been too busy to think about it.

The philanthropic and pro bono world is watching. For example in the legal field, both the American Bar Association's Second Season of Service Initiative and some local entities, such as the New York City Bar Association, have been eyeing and expecting senior lawyers nearing traditional retirement age to become a large talent pool for pro bono work. Similar expectations exist in accounting. Some of these efforts may have been delayed by the effects of the Great Recession. Nonetheless, they’re as valid as ever.

But pro bono, volunteering, unpaid work isn’t for everyone. In our Next Generation, Next Destination client interviews, we’ve found that many Baby Boomer professionals want to continue to play in the business arena.

Generational Definitions

Generations are defined by similar formative influences  social, cultural, political, and economic  that exist while individuals of particular birth cohorts are in their adolescent to early adult years. Given that premise, the approximate birth years for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are:

  • Traditionalists: Born between1925 and 1942
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1943 and 1962
  • Generation X: Born between 1963 and 1978
  • Generation Y/Millennials: Born between 1979 and 1998

So I had an interesting thought. The hedge fund managers and tech entrepreneurs under age forty have started to think about philanthropy and how to use their money to do good. But they don't want to do it in the traditional ways. They’re interested in starting their own entities with a different model that combines making money with doing good things for society. Perhaps some of those seasoned Baby Boomers can link their legacy time, expertise, and desire to continue to contribute with the Generation X and Y entrepreneurs for some hybrid organization that takes advantage of the best each generation has to offer.

For example, Venture for America, inspired by Teach for America, was started by Andrew Yang, former president of Manhattan GMAT, the test-prep company. The first fifty “fellows” were placed in small businesses (under 500 employees) for a two-year stint in 2012, and an expanded second round was placed in the summer of 2013 -– a positive sign. Yang’s goal is to help early-stage businesses and start-ups take off, and he’s targeting to create 100,000 jobs by 2025.

At the same time, the young fellows will get the know-how and experience to start companies of their own, if that’s their goal, and be paid $32,000 to $38,000 a year plus health benefits. The participants receive a five-week program at Brown University similar to training consultants and investment bankers receive.  The companies get bright, eager young workers they can afford to hire and mentor.

I, for one, look forward to seeing how this and other ventures take shape. There certainly are limitless needs, causes, and opportunities –- particularly in health care and education - to benefit a range of ages domestically and internationally, whether built on a not-for-profit or for-profit model. This certainly qualifies as the “meaningful work” Gen Yers and Boomers seek. The creative entrepreneurism model championed by the Gen Xers could bring it all together.

I'd love to hear your ideas. Please share your comments and thoughts below or e-mail them to You can also share on the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn.


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