Seattle Culture

Young Seattle Philanthropists Speak Out

At United Way of King County's Emerging Leaders 365 program, philanthropy is about more than just writing checks

By Todd Matthews January 2, 2023

United Way of King County executives Archana Verma and Taylor Roberson.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Seattle magazine.

At the young age of 34, Tiffany Go already considers herself a philanthropist — though her broad definition of the word may surprise those in the “I gave at the office” generation.

For Go, a health equity program manager at Seattle’s world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, philanthropy  is much more than blindly giving money. It’s doing the work to make the world a better place.

“I consider myself a philanthropist. I’m physically and emotionally involved,” says Go, a committee member in United Way of King County’s innovative Emerging Leaders 365 program, which seeks to engage millennial professionals in philanthropy. “I’m all in when I give an organization my time, talents and monetary support. As a philanthropist, I go beyond writing the check.”

Go and two fellow Emerging 365 participants — Maurice Roper, 31, and Jon Hermes, 35 — are representative of a new, younger generation of philanthropists redefining how giving is both practiced and defined. Many millennials view philanthropy as a part of their identities, and studies find they give at higher rates than previous generations. Fidelity Charitable, for example, reports that 74% of millennials consider themselves philanthropists, more than double the percentage of baby boomers.

Similarly, a study by Boston-based research and consulting firm Cerulli Associates found that younger generations will inherit nearly $73 trillion during the next 20 years. Online giving resource Qgiv learned that millennial donors prefer to give digitally via text message, app or online. Almost a third choose to give on their phones.

“The millennial generation is bringing a fresh perspective to giving back,” says Karla Valas, the head of fundraising at Fidelity Charitable, an independent public charity. “They are empowered to make the world a better place, and so, approach everyday decisions — like where to work, what products to buy and where to invest their savings — through a charitable lens. The next generation is driving [a shift] from charitable giving to charitable living.”

Emerging Leaders, which was founded in 2012, offers fundraising, monthly volunteering opportunities, networking events and a speakers series aimed at helping millennial professionals engage in philanthropy. It aids participants in identifying which volunteer opportunities to pursue, which speakers to invite and which fundraising opportunities to launch. 

Emerging 365 participants Maurice Roper, Jon Hermes and Tiffany Go.

Illustration by Jules Julien

Studies also show that many younger donors prefer to give directly to charities themselves rather than pass-through organizations. Go, who’s been involved with Emerging Leaders for about 18 months, says it is “centered on the ideas and energies” of the participants, as opposed to all programming coming from United Way staff.

The organization, like United Way, is tightly focused on racial equity, fighting homelessness, helping students graduate and breaking the cycle of poverty. Volunteer activities have included crafting flowers at El Centro de la Raza, spending time with Compass Housing Alliance’s seniors, setting up greenhouses at Chinook Farms, and tearing down booths and packing and distributing free produce at the Delridge Farmers Market.

The speaker’s series, which is held in small-group settings of up to 50 people to allow close interaction with local business leaders and community influencers, has featured Microsoft CFO Amy Hood, Tableau Software Director of Social Impact Neal Myrick, FareStart CEO Angela Dunleavy, University of Washington Professor and pediatrician Dr. Ben Danielson, Grist CEO Brady Walkinshaw and former Zillow vice president Rebekah Bastian.

United Way Marketing Program Manager Taylor Roberson says many program participants are looking to rekindle their experiences as volunteers in high school or college. 

“Maybe your life was full, you had all these activities during college and there are still things you care about,” Roberson says. “But once you start working, it’s just work-work-work, grind-grind-grind. This program allows you to connect to issues you care about and access leaders to grow your career and give back in the process.”

Roughly 300 people donate $365 annually to join the program, and 10,000 people receive the program’s twice-monthly newsletter. Its events regularly fill to capacity with young professionals from Alaska Airlines, Amazon, BECU, Boeing, Expedia, Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center, Google, Microsoft, Nordstrom and other major employers in King County.

Roper, a bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in Kent, says many younger people mistakenly believe they cannot participate in philanthropy without tremendous wealth. He adds many of his friends are “passively” involved in philanthropy, and calls the intersection of young people and philanthropy “weak.”

“For generations, we have seen money as the primary contribution to philanthropic works,” he explains. “We must normalize the idea that everyone can be a philanthropist because everyone can contribute positively to the world, regardless of how much money and resources they can access.”

To Hermes, a director at consulting firm PwC, philanthropy is more about volunteerism and community than money. He notes that time is just as valuable as money, as well as meeting the specific needs of resource-constrained nonprofits.

“The big-dollar donors are huge. They are making a difference. But you still need someone to drive the food from a farmer’s market to a food bank, or else people in need won’t get food. You need people to show up, volunteer and help do these things,” he says. “There are a ton of nonprofits out there, and they don’t have unlimited staff. They are stressed. If everybody just did little things, it would change things quickly.”

Hermes, Roper and Go all agree that younger people aren’t as philanthropy minded as they could or should be. They note that many of their peers are focused on raising families and buying their first houses and don’t think philanthropy really applies to them.

Changing that perception, Roper adds, begins with education and a broader understanding of the different avenues in which people can give back. 

“I want to change the perceptions around philanthropy among our peers,” he says. “With every community, networking and volunteer event scheduled, I want to communicate that philanthropy can meet you wherever you are and with whatever money, time, skills and resources you can give. Big or small.”

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