Yesterday, I got into a discussion with coworkers about an editorial that ran in The Boston Globe about two Boston-area philanthropists, Teddy Cutler and David Mugar. Both Mr. Cutler and Mr. Mugar (ages 85 and 76, respectively) are responsible for two free, public arts events that take place in the city over the summer, drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands. The first, Outside the Box, was established a few years ago by Mr. Cutler as his gift to the city, and was entirely funded by himself. Riddled with some organizational issues, the festival has ultimately prevailed, but has enjoyed it’s fair share of scrutiny. Four decades ago, Mr. Mugar established the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concert at the Hatch Shell on the 4th of July, which remains a favorite Boston pasttime. For it’s first two decades, the 4th of July Pops Concert was also solely funded by its original founder. Mr. Mugar has struggled to find other funders to support the concert since.
Both of these men, who are long time fixtures in the Boston political and philanthropic communities, have threatened to cease funding altogether in hopes that they will inspire local companies and a newer generation of philanthropists to pick up the slack. Their threats have fallen on deaf ears, at least so far.
Central to the article are two subjects who represent a more traditional stereotype: old, white men with deep pockets who have an unfailing passion and commitment for something. They’re great, in their own way, and in my opinion, they embody so much of what is special about traditional philanthropy. But while I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but think about how this particular issue is just not one that’s aligned with the markers of Millennial philanthropy. Why is that? Because these men funded these projects on their own.
Crowdfinance has been a huge platform for Millennials as an entree into philanthropy, and on some level, I think that’s really great. Online websites that have propelled the concept of crowdfunding like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and others have made giving sexy, accessible, and approachable. With a snappy, compelling video and a goal that the collective needs to reach as a make or break threshold for any given project, it’s easy to be pulled in and seduced by the possibilities. Game-ifying giving has it’s perks too: on a site like Kickstarter, if you can’t get enough donations to reach your goal, then no dice. By incentivizing friends and loved ones to help out, everyone gets competitive about seeing a project through to the end, even if they have no other stake in it’s success (other than, perhaps, pride in the project creator’s accomplishments).
Full disclosure: I’m skeptical of crowdfunding, but not opposed to it. My main hesitation stems from the rewards that are typically promised for participating in a crowdfunded project (i.e. “For $25 we’ll send you a t-shirt and an update!”). Certainly it’s a new-age form of recognition, but I think it promotes a culture of “What do I get out of this?” ultimately perpetuating a nasty stereotype about Millennials that we’re only looking out for ourselves.
Now, it’s too soon to tell if Millennials are always going to be so keen on crowdfunding. Quite frankly, Millennials haven’t reached their full financial potential yet, and until they do, we can’t know exactly what their philanthropic behavior will indicate. But, I do believe that right now, Millennials probably feel that they’ll have more impact when their charitable contributions work in concert with others’, rather than just by themselves. I’d even venture to say that being invited to participate in a crowdfunded project inspires more people to more readily give, with less hesitation.
So while it’s a bummer, truly, to read about the struggle that our local octogenarian philanthropists are having to sustain their passion projects, it just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that will be a problem for our generation. What do you think? Does participating in a crowdfunded campaign influence you? Or would you rather fly solo in your giving? Tell me more.