Joyful Givers

CHAPTER 4: GENERATION GAP

People we spoke to had long-established patterns of giving which they had formed before the age of 25, and were concerned that their children’s generation did not express their commitment to social justice through financial giving.

Start as you mean to go on. Lots of the philanthropists we spoke to who were in their mid-40s or older had taken this approach.

In this cohort (broadly 45–60 years old), many people had taken very intentional decisions about financial giving at the age of 20 and had stuck with those principles throughout their adult life. They reviewed them when they married and some had, together with their partner, set giving goals of one kind or another which formed an important part of their shared life plans.

For some, the organisations they had started giving to in their student days were still part of their philanthropic activity. Many had built in rhythms and routines for their giving, especially those who were giving from income; the usual model was to put money into a dedicated account throughout the year and then, generally with their spouse, to decide annually how best to allocate it between the causes they support. Those giving from capital also usually made decisions jointly with their partner, but were often more open to giving throughout the year rather than as an annual event.

There were some married couples who organised their giving independently of their partner, but most married philanthropists told us they discussed and agreed it together. Christians were very clear that prayer was an important part of the process, and that their major giving was one of their spiritual disciplines.

My wife and I sit down and pray, we say we’ve got some money to give away, where shall we give it? We try to be agreed, we go away and think about it, get back together and say this is what I think, yes, that feels good to me.

Company director, Northern Ireland

We put all the money for giving into one account and then we divide it into four quarters. Half of it - two quarters - we agree together, then we each have a quarter which we can decide separately and we each give to things or people we’re connected to.

Corporate lawyer and doctor, south-east England

We [my wife and I] do this every year, and we have a list and we think about it quite hard and we pray about it. People come off the list, people go on the list.

Lawyer, London

It was clear that these conversations were an important part of each couple’s relationship; an opportunity to look back prayerfully at decisions they had made early in their marriage and ahead to their future plans.

But people who had established these giving routines were usually well into their adult lives, and many of them were concerned that their children or their children’s friends may not adopt similar philanthropic habits.

Some placed the responsibility at the door of the church.

Money and giving is seen as dirty word, don’t go there in churches. Not talked about, no guidance given altogether.

Company director, Northern Ireland

I keep going back to this because it’s very important, it’s formative really, when I was at Cambridge people actually talked about these issues and they talked very very clearly about this, at church and CU [Christian Union]. They said a number of you will be very rich people, which is true, and you have a responsibility as a very rich person because that guy over there is not going to be a missionary in Kenya or whatever unless you are giving the right amount of money.
It was the late 70s, early 80s and it was very, very clear teaching and it stuck. I know for a fact from my own children’s experience that that teaching doesn’t exist in the current environment to the same degree. Maybe it was too aggressive and put some people off, but actually how can you have a proper vibrant Christian community operating unless the body of Christ is resourced properly, by some Christians actually being in all echelons of society, earning a lot of money and giving some of it away?

Lawyer, London

Others reflected on broader social changes, particularly relating to debt and expectations of standard of living. And young people expect to express generosity through volunteering and activism, rather than financial giving.

My children in their 20s tell me they feel financially poor due to student debt and high rents, but they’re very willing to give time to volunteer to help others. They have lots of involvement with volunteering on a weekly planned basis, and would take a salary sacrifice to do a job that contributed to society and helped others. They’ve done gap year volunteer projects.

Counsellor, south-east England

There are different stages of life. Sometimes you have more to give, sometimes less. If I were a young person now trying to buy a flat in London I don’t know what I’d do. We were always thrifty, especially when we were young. I made my own clothes. Young people now complain about having no money but are always going out for coffee. They can afford the coffee! They’re not used to tight budgeting.

Doctor, south-east England

Charity is a hard one for a lot of young people. It’s a taboo. There are quite often too many things pulling in different directions. People only have so much money to give, and for some people it’s very little. If hundreds of people are saying this is a worthwhile thing to do it often results in doing nothing at all.

Consultant (in their 20s), London

The principle of tithing - giving a tenth of one’s income or wealth - came up unprompted almost always with older supporters and almost never with younger ones. Those who talked about tithing were keen to emphasise there are different interpretations of how best to calculate the tithe as a proportion, and that there are seasons of life when giving at scale works better than others.

There’s a life cycle, of course. For a person who married perhaps in their late 20s or early 30s, then has children and a mortgage, tithing may be a considerable stretch. That lasts for a time, and then you emerge in your late 40s or early 50s when you’ve earned more money and perhaps your children are off your hands, and you need to rethink.

Retired banker, London

No-one is questioning the younger generation’s passion for social justice or commitment to Christian faith. But many people we spoke to - both those in their 20s and those old enough to be their parents - recognised that this is more likely to be expressed through volunteering or activism rather than financial giving.

A combination of student debt, high housing costs, an expectation of a higher standard of living than a previous generation might have enjoyed at a similar age, and a lack of public conversations about money, appears to have led to concerns among older Christians that, while a younger generation care deeply about causes, they may be able to give very little money.

It’s still very early days. I want to move around in the world, and experience different working cultures. I’m not too good at forward planning, I’ve only been three months in my first job! But I worry I’ll fall into the trap of thinking I’ll get to it when I have more time or money…

Software developer (in their 20s), London

My age group don’t give that much. It’s just not modelled. It’s a shame because there’s so much space for worship in giving. There’s not just one clear pattern of what you have to do so there’s a lot of freedom to explore how you want to do it.

Accountant (in their 20s), London

I want to help people and I’ve decided to start giving through Tearfund and church but really my heart is more moved by people I meet and then wrestling with how best to help them. Like a homeless guy I talk to sometimes but I’m never sure what the best thing is to do, whether to give him money.

Banker (in their 20s), London

My friends - many of them are freelance, working in TV production, don’t have much money and it all goes on renting in London. They don’t see giving as a priority.

PR (in their 20s), London

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