I met Jason Franklin years ago through Resource Generation and other philanthropy-related organizations in which I was involved. Jason is one of my favorite examples of a next gen philanthropist. He’s educated, thoughtful… not to mention fun. Jason is now the Executive Director of Bolder Giving, but has served in so many different leadership roles and integral efforts in philanthropy. For his full bio, click here or read on!
Below are highlights from my interview with Jason about being a next gen philanthropist. Many thanks to Jason for participating in the interview and willing to be a voice in the next gen philanthropic community.
Q: What is the story of how you became involved in the philanthropic world?
I became involved in social change work in high school. Oregon was proposing major funding cuts to the public school system and I organized a group of students to advocate for stopping the cuts. Our group – Oregon Students Supporting Education - grew from 4 student members to 10,000 in 6 months and working with teachers, parents, and others from across the state we were able to reduce the budget cuts from 25% to 2.5%. I served as Executive Director of OSSE and graduated high school convinced that one person truly can make an impact.
From there I became involved in a number of human rights and equity issues that I was passionate about, worked as volunteer in the White House AIDS Policy Office during the Clinton administration, and completed a graduate program for nonprofit management in New York City.
I was passionate about social change and the nonprofit sector, but hadn’t formally been involved in philanthropy. In 2002 when I was 22 years old I received a phone call from my grandfather’s secretary letting me know that my grandfather wanted the younger generations to get involved in the family foundation. I had no idea up until that phone call that a family foundation even existed.
As I learned more and more about philanthropy as well as the nonprofit sector, I started speaking on the topic of generational philanthropy issues and organizing other people around their giving. Last June, I became Executive Director of Bolder Giving which works to inspire donors to “Give More, Risk More, Inspire More” – especially since then I’ve been working hard to walk our talk of giving big in my own life.
Q: How do you engage in philanthropy? Family foundation? Personal checks?
There are a number of ways that I engage in philanthropy. Annually, each member of our family is able to make small, discretionary grants through our family foundation, directed to a wide range of issues based on each of our passions and interests. Additionally, today I give at least 25% of my annual income to a range of causes.
Every year I create a giving plan to guide from my personal giving. I divide my giving plan into six areas including issues I am passionate about such as education equity and local community organizing and what I call “impulse giving.” The impulse giving pot is for one-time gifts when I want to support a friend’s efforts or a single project that catches my attention and heart. This impulse giving is both the hardest and most fun part of my giving - it allows me some flexibility in my giving but also leaves me open to being irrational and “un-strategic.” But after a couple years of budgeting every gift I realized I had to leave room for the unexpected.
I would say that about 50% of my current giving is directed through ongoing, monthly gifts, often with a multi-year commitment of $500-1,500/year. I’m also in the process of setting up a local NYC next gen giving circle and serve as a board member for two public foundations – the North Star Fund and the Proteus Fund.
My gifts mostly range from $25 to $2,500, with my bigger gifts going mostly going to groups where I am actively involved in their work. I also tend to support smaller organizations where my gift may be among the larger gifts they receive thus making a big impact on their missions. While large social change groups are critically important, in general I believe in investing in the smaller and more marginalized organizations and communities to help get their voices heard.
Q: How long have you supported your top charity/charities?
The first gift I remember making was when I was 12 years old. I ran a lemonade stand for a summer with three friends - but it wasn’t your average stand selling “Dixie cups for a quarter.” Five to six days a week we offered to our neighbors and golfers between the 9th & 10th holes not only lemonade, but extensive morning and afternoon menus – coffee, sodas, baked goods, candy, fruit and more. We thought we were “budding businessmen”…I didn’t realize until years later that our parents spent more on our supplies than we made selling them!
My mom sat me down at the end of summer and encouraged me to give some of my earnings to those who needed them more. After much discussion, when I returned to school in the fall I told Principal Marder I wanted to donate half of what I had made from my lemonade stand to help buy books for our “sister school” in Latin America. He was shocked when I handed him an envelope with $1,200 in it – half of my share from the almost $10,000 my friends and I made that summer.
Q: What, if anything, limits your amount and frequency of giving?
It is 100% budget restrictions. It’s an ongoing balancing act. I love to give and it gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction, but I struggle between what I want/need/should spend on myself and wanting to do more philanthropically.
Q: How do you prefer that these charities communicate with you?
I’m really open to all kinds of communications. Because giving is such a big part of my life, I do read annual reports. I think about my philanthropy as part of my self-development and I know I spend much more time thinking about giving than most people my age.
I do appreciate when organizations ask me how I would like them to communicate with me. I don’t like when I contribute an “impulse gift” to a walk, run, or bike ride and then get overwhelmed with email and print mailers. I feel I get inundated with information from these organizations after I contribute a very small gift to help or support a friend. Recently I set up a new email account for my donations just to help hold off the spam.
Q: How satisfied are you with how often your top charities communicate with you and the way they communicate with you? Would you have any suggestions on what to maintain or improve?
About 50% of my annual gifts go to organizations that I am personally involved with as a leader and so often I already know what’s happening in the organization. I appreciate the acknowledgment letter or being added to an email list. But I also know that it’s about scale. For the few larger institutions I support, I get that with my small gift I’m simply a name on a long list rather than someone they hope to build a relationship with.
One approach I particularly like is used by a local New York City organizing group I support. They set up a meeting with every person who gives over $250 between the donor, a staff member and at least one of their constituents. It becomes a learning experience on all sides. The organization learns about me more as an ally and a pipeline to other resources, the constituent(s) get comfortable talking with donors – often people with wealth they’ve rarely or never had the chance to do connect with before, and I get a deeper understanding of the organization and how it is impacting the community it’s organizing.
While it is nice to be recognized, I am also an ED who struggles to find enough time to effectively recognize every donor to our organization. I understand the competing priorities and the juggling act. I am a philanthropist, but I also share the perspective of those running the organizations and cut a lot of slack to groups about acknowledgement – ultimately I’m supporting them because I believe in their work, not because I’m seeking a thank you.
Q: How many nonprofit boards have you served on?
I am currently serving on five boards and two advisory boards; I have served on three others in the past. I have a different experience than many people my age in the nonprofit world because I started working part time for a nonprofit when I was 17 and then was working almost full time by the time I was 20. I’ve spent the last eight years in philanthropy - teaching philanthropy at NYU, working on my PhD dissertation looking at philanthropy & policymaking, and serving as a major donor.
At the North Star Fund, one of the foundation boards I sit on, they’ve set as one priority a goal of building a younger donor base and engage younger people throughout their work. My position on the board among other actions communicated the message that our community is important to North Star, which has helped increased their next gen participation on boards and committees. I think the difference here is that they are clear about their expectations and follow through with their goals of engaging the next generation. I also loved the experience of serving on the Resource Generation board, which is a youth-led board and gave me a chance to learn with a group of my peers.
I’ve probably turned down seven or eight board invitations in the last six months because groups are so actively looking to find next gen members for their boards. My goal now is to serve as a bridge to others next gen leaders…and also to help nonprofit leaders realize that young leaders can do more than just “party and tweet.” Boards need to open up other opportunities based on the individual’s skill set, not make such big assumptions based on age.
More about Jason Franklin…
Jason Franklin serves as Executive Director of Bolder Giving, which encourages donors to “Give More, Risk More, Inspire More.” He brings to this work over 15 years experience in philanthropy education, nonprofit strategy, and urban policy & education advocacy. He is also an award-winning Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate at New York University, where he teaches and conducts research on philanthropy and policymaking. He serves on the boards of Resource Generation, North Star Fund, Proteus Fund, 21st Century School Fund, Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative, Wealth for the Common Good (advisory) and the Chartered Advisors in Philanthropy program (advisory).