Spotlight on Lauren Janus, Founder, Thoughtful Philanthropy

We speak to Lauren Janus, founder of Thoughtful Philanthropy, about the rise of philanthropy among millennials and how this age group can find out more about giving.

1. Can you tell us about Thoughtful Philanthropy and how it came into being?

When I graduated from university, I pretty much went straight to work for the charity sector. I’m passionate about social change and community, and never really thought about doing anything else with my life. But after a while, I realised that what I liked much more than fundraising (which is kind of what anyone in the charitable sector ends up doing) is helping donors understand charitable work and how social change happens.

So, I embraced my fear of anything “for-profit” and applied to business school. To my surprise, I got in and spent the next three years learning about really foreign subjects like ROI, profit margins and shareholders.

Once I had my MBA and felt more confident about actually running a business, I set about establishing Thoughtful Philanthropy. Now I work with my clients to understand what issues they’re passionate about—from coral reef preservation to childhood literacy—and research how their donations can best address those issues. I’m not sure there’s a better job out there.

2. You recently wrote a guide for advisers on getting more millennials giving. What were the key takeaways?

I think the most important thing to remember is something your readers already know—that millennials think, act and are motivated by different things than people of older generations. When it comes to charitable giving, millennials:

·        Are most likely to choose a charity based on a recommendation from their friends. Fundraisers, crowdsourcing and social media events such as #nomakeupselfie and the Ice Bucket Challenge are examples of the power of millennials to raise millions of pounds by urging each other on.

·        Want to see more than glossy photos and vague promises of ‘good work’ done by charities. Instead, millennials are more focused on data and impact than earlier generations. They want to see change and understand how their involvement has contributed.

·        Are also more willing to give to those outside of their social and economic class. While older generations are more likely to give to hospitals and churches, millennials more often choose to give to mental health charities, homeless and refugee organisations. Basically, they care about people in the wider community and aren’t afraid to talk about difficult issues.

3. Do you think philanthropy among millennials has increased? If so, what do you think’s driving this? 

I think philanthropy is definitely on the rise among millennials, especially as this generation sees charitable giving as part of their wider identities as socially active, engaged citizens.

I’m American, and I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of younger people speaking out—and doing something—about the actions of the Trump administration. Just look at how the students at the high school in Parkland, FL were able to organise and demand media attention after the horrific shooting that happened at their school.

4. Do you think millennials approach charitable giving differently to other groups? Is the industry doing enough to cater to these differences?

Millennials expect charities to engage them beyond their wallets, and I think that’s a crucial point many charities (especially here in the UK) have yet to fully grasp. The charities that are really nurturing younger donors are those that are asking them to share not only their pay checks, but also their knowledge, their networks and their time.

Young people today have a lot to offer—many of us are professionals with real skills we can loan to charities. That’s why I love it when I see charities hosting events for millennials to network, learn about the issue areas and sign up to help the orgnisations with real needs — be they marketing, strategy, operational or anything else where young people can lend their expertise as well as their passions.

5. To what extent is a lack of financial education affecting millennials? Do you think philanthropy could be given a more prominent role in financial education classes/courses?

Absolutely. Everybody needs to understand how to budget, how interest works and how to plan for the longer term. Charities are uniquely positioned to offer resources for schools and communities helping young people improve their financial literacy. What would be amazing is if a charity got together a couple of millennials to create some materials for their peers. That would be an example of leveraging millennials’ talents and passions rather than just looking for them to fundraise.

6. What are the benefits to millennials of charitable giving?

Charitable giving can have huge benefits for people of any generation. Some people give because they feel a duty to ‘give back’.

But others give because it’s a meaningful, empowering way to act on their passions. We know millennials are a passionate bunch, so philanthropy for them can be hugely powerful. It’s a way to say “I don’t like the direction some things are going in the world. But instead of just moaning about it on social media, I’m doing something about it. I may not be giving a lot of money right now, but I’m giving something, and that’s moving the needle.”

7. Where can millennials go to find out more about becoming philanthropists?

There’s an increasingly rich variety of resources on philanthropy and charitable giving. One of my favourites is GiveWell, a U.S.-based organisation that rigorously evaluates charities and recommends several especially impactful ones each year. Their rigour especially appeals to the millennial desire for data and transparency.

I also really recommend checking to see if your region has a community foundation. These are locally-based organisations that specialise in supporting small charities working in your community. If you want to know which groups are serving the needs of the people in your neighbourhood, your community foundation will know.

Mostly, I recommend just keeping your ears and eyes open for opportunities to become involved in the issues you’re passionate about. Visit charities in your area and learn about the issues they’re working on. Read a book or watch a documentary about an issue you don’t know much about. Then take the time to find out more about the charities working on that issue. Talk to your friends and consider getting involved together. I promise you won’t regret it.

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