The New Generation of Philanthropists

Giving to charity now means having fun along with writing checks.

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For a new generation of philanthropists, giving to charity isn't just about writing checks. Instead, the focus is on volunteering, socializing, and networking -- while also contributing to good causes. "Many Generation X-ers are more interested in social advocacy and engagement philanthropy," says Dwight Burlingame, associate executive director at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. That means they are more likely to want to work directly with organizations instead of just donating money, he explains.

The center has found that giving rates tend to go up with education levels: 90 percent of those with graduate degrees contributed to charity, compared to 58 percent of those with high school educations or less. For a college graduate, the average annual gift is $2,633.

Here are three of the most popular ways 20 and 30-somethings are giving back -- and how you can, too:

[See "How to Make a Micro-Loan Overseas."]

Start a young professionals' organization to support a local institution. David Don, 38, a public policy lawyer for Comcast, found himself drawn to the history of the National Archives, which houses documents ranging from the Declaration of Independence to the Emancipation Proclamation. But he discovered that the museum lacked a program to encourage young professionals to get involved in supporting it.

After looking at how other museums work with young professionals, he organized a group of friends to create the Young Founders Society. The group now hosts regular events featuring guest speakers such as documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It has 75 members and raises about $15,000 a year to support the archives.

While Don's primary goal was always to raise awareness and support for the institution, he's found that the social aspects as just as enjoyable. "A lot of times people come with friends, and meet other friends -- there's significant networking," says Don.

That, he says, is the difference between simply getting people to write checks and starting up a group. "Money is important, but it's about getting this institution and exhibits in front of the public. If I had just given $15,000, I probably wouldn't have talked to many friends about it," he says.

[See "Why Young People are Starting Nonprofits."]

Throw great parties that raise money. The Beverly Hills-based Society of Young Philanthropists started with a group of 25 young professionals who decided they wanted to give back. Dana Corddry, 28, a former board member, says that many of them had grown up going to parties that raised money for charities, and they wanted to continue that tradition as they grew up.

The group's annual gala in May, held at a private residence in Beverly Hills and attended by 600 people who paid around $200 a ticket, raised $10,000 each for Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy's autism organization, and Save a Child's Heart, which provides heart surgeries to children worldwide. While the causes were serious, the party was anything but: Attendees were greeted with Bacardi cocktails and danced until 2am. "We're just taking what we'd already be doing and making it useful, and turning it into something that can help," says Corddry. She estimates that the organization raises around $50,000 to $80,000 for charities each year.

The Society of Young Philanthropists now has about 6,000 members, most of whom are in their 20s, which makes it an ideal networking environment. As Corddry launches her own event planning company, L'Artisan, she says other members of the group have offered to help her by sharing contacts and their expertise. Networking happens during the parties as well as the volunteer projects, which include taking foster kids to a baseball game and planting trees at a school.

Form a giving circle. Giving circles, where a group of people come together to pool their money and then jointly donate it to a common cause, are growing as a way of leveraging donated dollars and making it easier, and more enjoyable, to do more research before writing checks. According to www.givingcircles.org, there could be as many as 800 giving circles throughout the United States, compared to just half that number in 2006.

At Many Hands Inc., a giving circle based in northwest Washington, DC, each member pledges $1,000 a year. Then, they research potential charities through interviews and site visits and vote on which one to donate to. Over the last six years, the group has given away over $350,000 to local nonprofits that serve women and children. "The impact is so much greater than what any one of us is able to do individually," says board member Noni Lindahl.

[See "7 Reasons to Donate Through a Giving Circle."]