I have always been fascinated by the evolution of generations and how they differ from one another. While I am at the tail end of Generation X (born 1965-79), I have always – and still do – identify myself strongly with that generation. Perhaps one reason for my deep seeded Gen-X identification is the fact that my parents, unlike the parents of most of my friends, were not Baby Boomers (born 1946-64). Instead they were born at the end of the so-called Silent Generation (born 1925-45). Mom and Dad, deep apologies for calling out your ages in a public forum. I believe that who we are as adults is deeply rooted in both who our parents are and what they were influenced by as well as our own external influences – our peers, pop culture, the politics and economics of the time, etc.
The New York Times recently published a multi-article report on “Gen X” discussing who we are, why we are the way we are, and where we are now. Like any generation, the how we got here articles are a unique walk down memory lane. It’s frankly fun to compare and contrast how we differ based upon our generations. For example, I recently gave the phone number of a friend, by memory, to a Millennial colleague. She laughed in awe and wonder that I had a phone number memorized. In fact, I told her, I have so many phone numbers memorized I can tell you the phone number that my husband’s parents had when we were in middle school. I can also tell you both phone numbers for the “parent’s line” and the “kid’s line” of several of my best friends from high school. I recall dialing those numbers in rapid succession on my completely clear telephone. You know, the one you could see through and see all the cool colored wires and gadgets inside. Ah, nostalgia.
What really caught my attention was the fact that it forced me to think about where Gen Xers are now. Generation X, made up of roughly 65 million people, is relatively small when compared to the 75 million Baby Boomers or the 83 million Millennials. Despite being labeled “slackers” by a film of the same name in 1991, according to Shullman Research Center the buying power of Generation Xers shows that we are anything but. Moreover, Generation X has left its mark on any number of fields from technology to politics. Naturally this led me to wonder how my generation would be perceived in the world of philanthropy.
In 2018, Blackbaud published a study of the charitable habits of adults. While the Silent or Greatest Generation (those born before 1946) dominated philanthropy until 2010, Baby Boomers and Generation Xers have surged ahead in recent years. Not to be outdone, however, those in the Greatest Generation still donate more money per capita than any other generation. According to Blackbaud, the average donor is 64 years old, right in the middle of the Baby Boomers, who currently give 41% of all charitable dollars. Seventy-Five percent (75%) of Baby Boomers make philanthropic donations compared to 78% of those in the Greatest Generation. While some purport my generation is small, we are making our mark on philanthropy. Approximately 55% of Gen Xers are philanthropic donors and, as such, are the third largest group of philanthropists. While we are not quite there, we are approaching our “prime giving years” according to Blackbaud. When polled, more than 20% of Gen Xers say they plan to increase their giving in the upcoming year. Not too shabby for my once plaid flannel clad cohorts.
One thing for certain about Gen X, perhaps as with any other generation, is that we refused to adhere to the constraints put upon us by the generation before us. We sought to very uniquely define ourselves. Of course, bucking the system is nothing new and certainly not invented by Gen Xers. Every generation does this to some degree. What makes each generation unique is not that we choose not to conform it is how we choose not to conform.
So in looking to the future of our community, I have to ask my fellow Gen Xers this question: how do you want us to be perceived not only as contributors to society, technology and politics but as philanthropists? How will we respond to the myriad issues faced in North Louisiana. My hope is that we will learn generosity from the Boomers and Silent Generation. My hope is we will strive to seek the most effective data-driven philanthropic solutions available to address issues from poverty to poor health outcomes. My hope is that we are able to work across public and private sectors to derive solutions not yet tried. My hope is that we are as creative and innovative in our philanthropy as we have been in all other walks of life.
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on May 19, 2019.