Igniting Generation Next by Gioia Perugini

“Adults like us when we have strong test scores, but they hate us when we have strong opinions.”

“We are the turn of this century. We are the voice of change. We are here to fix what America is falling short of.”

“We, as youth, must now be the change that we seek. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

“In our generation, we feel we have to get out, make our decisions and decide whom we want to follow, whom we want to vote for, what we want to do , where we want to give back. I think that’s the power of our generation right now.”

These are the words of our young people. From Parkland to D.C. and in cities and towns in between, the past few months have confirmed that the power of youth and their ability to engage with the challenges in our communities is undeniable.

I spend a lot of time thinking about engaging the next generation, both as a parent and as a philanthropy professional who works with individuals and families. Having spent a lot of time working with Baby Boomers and their children, we are increasingly focused on Generation Z, which includes young people born after 1995. We are learning a lot from them.

Here’s what we know about this generation, thanks in part to Jess DeVlieger from CSpace. Born after 1995, this generation is 2 billion strong world-wide, and is on track to become nearly 26% of the U.S. population. They are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in U.S. history. They are the most technologically literate generation, having literally grown up with an iPhone in their hands (the technical term is “digital native.”) It’s been said that they could swipe before they could talk.

Gen Z takes advantage of the resources available to them and are acutely self-aware of their ability to find the answers to anything they need. They grew up on community service, and have been civically engaged, with their Gen X parents and on their own, from a very early age. Among Gen Z, an impressive 26% have raised money for a cause, and the same percentage volunteer on a regular basis; 32% have donated their own money. As importantly, they focus on solving problems over serving needs. Gen Z also has an estimated $44 billion (and growing) in purchasing power. More interesting information about this generation is available here.

Whatever your politics, the power, technological savvy and perspective of young people is undeniable. We ignore them at our peril. Earlier this month, Hemenway & Barnes hosted a breakfast exploring how “Generation Z” engages with the world of social change, civic engagement, nonprofits, and philanthropy, during which we had the unique chance to hear directly from young people themselves.

I have several take-aways from this panel that I share for your consideration.

  1. Gen Z is building a truly inclusive youth movement. The participants spoke eloquently about the importance of including all voices in their call for change. Black or brown, gay or straight, city or country, young people want to work across traditional divides.
  2. They value peer mentorship and the exchange of ideas from within their peer group. They trust one another, sometimes more than they trust government, nonprofits, or their parents. As one of the young people passionately stated: “We are able to mobilize and make change on our own.”
  3. Their voices matter. While Generation Z may be more willing than previous generations to be identified as a part of the whole, they want to be seen as individuals worthy of the respect and recognition of nonprofit leaders, adult mentors, and government leaders.
  4. Athletics can provide a powerful pathway to civic engagement. My colleagues at Positive Tracks, and the youth they support, demonstrate first-hand that sport and physical activity deliver hands-on learning, ownership, personal challenge, leadership experience, community mobilization and an inclusive fun to engage peers and talk about “tough issues.”
  5. Family philanthropy can and must take into account the voices of its youngest generation. Even at very early ages, youth can understand complex social issues and work alongside the adults in their family to contribute to solutions, long before they enter the board room.

It seems fitting to end, as we began, with voices of young people, true and unfiltered.

“My generation needs to do something greater than ourselves. We’re here and we’re ready.”

“We are not slacktivists. We are activists. We don’t want adults to tell us how to do it. We’re making it inclusive. We’re making it count.”

“Allowing people who are already passionate to get involved – that’s inclusivity and where young people come in. If we want to move forward, it’s going to take everyone.”

About the Author

Gioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services. Read Gioia’s full biography here.

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