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Philanthropy Focus: Grant-Making Expert Challenges Baby Boomers’ Charitable Intent

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A recent study from Civic Ventures indicated that significant numbers of baby boomers are intent on starting their own nonprofit organizations or socially oriented enterprises over the next decade.

The trend identified in the study elicited a robust, generally negative response in The Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier this month. “[I]t’s hard to imagine those findings cheered many people who understand the nonprofit world,” Mark Rosenman wrote in a Chronicle of Philanthropy op-ed piece. “More than a million nonprofit groups already exist, and plenty of for-profit ventures are dedicated in part to providing some social benefit. Adding millions more of such entities is not good for this nation.”

Rosenman is director of Caring to Change, “a project in Washington that seeks to improve how grant making serves the public.”

Rosenman’s strongly worded essay generated a vigorous back-and-forth with Chronicle readers.

While acknowledging the “commitment and spirit” of the baby boomers to address growing needs of many Americans, Rosenman asserted that what is really needed today is “joint action.” Indeed, he wrote, individualistic action is the source of many contemporary problems and inhibits “real progress toward the common good.”

Rosenman said that at a time when existing nonprofits are feeling increasingly constrained, baby boomers would be better advised to work through existing organizations “to start their creative new programs, improve existing ones, or concentrate resources instead of multiplying administrative and overhead costs.”

Echoing the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements, Rosenman said that failed economic, social and political systems need to be dealt with. Those systems “and the people who inappropriately profit from their undemocratic malfunctioning” are the continuing cause of current problems.

Rosenman said a need exists for nonprofits and foundations that are willing to counter the country’s downward headed social mobility. “That won’t change unless millions of baby boomers shift their social commitment from an ill-advised and self-centered ambition to start a plethora of new enterprises and instead work together, and with others, to build the social, political, and economic movement required today,” he said.


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