Feature

The New Givers

How millennials approach philanthropic giving.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about the “grace in giving” that the Macedonian churches exhibited as they gave out of their extreme poverty to serve those spreading the Gospel. The Macedonians provided service, prayer, joy and whatever they had, giving far beyond their means to glorify God and ensure the flourishing and success of those they supported. (2 Corinthians 7 and 8) 

The concept that Steve Garber calls “common grace for the common good” motivates Christian donors to be philanthropists, many times giving sacrificially to help others. While this concept transcends every generation, younger donors are showing new motivations for giving back. As we learn about their philanthropic and volunteer interests, we can create giving opportunities to meet their unique needs. Some commonalities among younger donors are the way they call upon life-shaping experiences to direct their philanthropy, and how they want to see and be involved in the change that results from their support.

Steve and Apryl Scalici have been inspired in their giving by past experiences in and out of the classroom.
(Photo: Courtesy of Palm Beach Atlantic University)

Take for example Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) alumni Steve and Apryl Scalici. Steve learned from one of his favorite PBA business professors to put people over profits. He says that simple lesson, along with his troubled childhood, has served as a basic guide for his business and philanthropic interests since he and Apryl graduated in the mid-1990s. Early in their marriage, even when they had modest incomes, Steve and Apryl decided to cap their living expenses, giving the excess to the causes they love. As a teenager, Steve says he fought in dozens of fights and was arrested at 16 for breaking into cars. He sees kids in urban settings falling into the same patterns as he did, and he wants to change this through his financial and volunteer support of local social service agencies.

Likewise, Steve’s approach to philanthropy has shaped his and Apryl’s giving to PBA. When a family friend lent him money to finish his degree at PBA, Steve worked diligently to save money to pay them back. The day he tried to return the funds, they said, “What loan?” That experience led him to establish an endowed scholarship in that family’s name for business majors and, subsequently, another scholarship for bi-vocational pastors. And Steve’s engagement and philanthropy with the scholarship is about more than the money. He enjoys presenting the scholarship funds to the student recipients so he can meet them, develop a relationship and mentor them.

More than Monetary Giving

Through my observations over my years in development and advancement, it is apparent that giving back in any way is in the DNA of millennial donors, our youngest generation of alumni. Sammi Denker, who graduated in 2015, says her giving approach is shaped by Jesus’ salvation: “He gave his life, so we can give our lives in service, financial support or whatever resources we have."

Sammi Denker is committed to working with and giving back to the local community around PBA.
(Photo: Courtesy of Palm Beach Atlantic University)

Denker, an AmeriCorps VISTA program volunteer at PBA, says she never really saw or interacted with poverty until she went to Haiti on a mission trip as a PBA student. That experience motivated her to change her major from theatre to psychology so she could focus on the betterment of others. Through Workship, PBA’s service program, Denker says that she had an awakening to the needs of the local community. Currently, she works with the Parker Avenue Consortium, the PBA community partnership program that supports schools and community organizations in the low-income Parker Avenue neighborhood of West Palm Beach, Florida. Through this initiative, Denker helps schools improve student achievement and teaches families about important community resources available to them. 

These service experiences have ignited Denker’s passion for kids who are growing up in an environment where they are neglected and unloved. And though her finances are extremely limited, she gives what she can to support people and organizations who are creating real and lasting change for children and families in dire poverty. Her motivation for giving is to see stories and lives changing, and she believes most of her friends feel the same way. “Everyone I know that is my age wants to be a part of something bigger than them,” Denker says. “They want to get behind causes that change the world or change someone’s world for the better.”

Giving back through business building

Millennials are also interested in building enterprise that brings together their work and philanthropic interests. These social entrepreneurs believe that there is a responsibility to do something meaningful with the opportunities they have been given. Ben Katzaman, a 2013 PBA graduate, calls his business “impact focused.” His life-shaping experience happened when he was in Bali and met a people group that possessed the incredible artesian skill of bone carving but were living in poverty and struggling to survive. Most worked manual labor jobs to support their families. Katzaman realized that he could provide meaningful employment to the villagers by connecting them to online buyers interested in their work. Through his business, Wanderer Bracelets, he has built a successful company that sells unique jewelry featuring the beautiful bone carvings of these Bali villagers.

He says that focusing on trade rather than aid creates employment for the villagers who had no or low-paying jobs so that they can sustain their families and support their village’s economy. He understands that his contemporaries, who have become his best customers and investors, want to see the measurable social impact of his business. He and his 40 employees are developing a formal research study to examine the impact of his business. He wants to prove that the villagers he employs are thriving and are thus able to have better education, healthcare and nutrition. He says he and his investors are not interested in being recognized for the change: “They want to see the impact.”   

Ben Katzaman has founded a business to promote the development and skills of artisans in Bali.
(Photo: Courtesy of Palm Beach Atlantic University)

Katzaman’s approach to philanthropy is the same. He says, “I’m not interested in writing a blank check; I am enticed to give when I can see direct impact of the donations on the organization.”

These stories show that the commitment to creating common grace for the common good is alive and well in younger donors and volunteers. The giving and volunteering behaviors of young PBA alumni reinforces my belief that the future of philanthropy is indeed bright. We must capture their passion for giving back, seeing impact and following God’s great command for their sacrificial giving. By doing so, our organizations will thrive long into the future. 

William M. B. Fleming Jr. is the eighth president of Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. He previously served as PBA’s vice president for development and has been instrumental in raising more than $149 million during his tenure at the university.

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