How the kids and grandkids of billionaire giving pledge signers are figuring out philanthropy


A 300-person group of heirs to Giving Pledge signers has been sharing tips and support for how to deal with family and big philanthropy for years. Now some of these “Next Gen” family members, including two who spoke to Forbes exclusively, are getting ready to attend their first official Giving Pledge gathering.

Tanya Masiyiwa, the 32-year-old daughter of Zimbabwean telecom billionaire Strive Masiyiwa, credits her mother, Tsitsi, with getting her to attend her first Next Gen meeting–a gathering of children and grandchildren of Giving Pledge signers. “My mom called and said ‘They’re having a conference and you’re going,’” she recalls. Masiyiwa flew from London to Omaha, Nebraska for the gathering in 2015 and her two sisters joined from New York and Rhode Island, where they were both in college. “All three of us were wondering what we were doing there. They were asking questions that we didn’t yet have the answers to, like ‘What role are you going to play in your family’s foundation?’” Masiyiwa recalls.

The experience led her to ask for a board position on her family’s Higherlife Foundation, which supports education, health, disaster relief and preparedness and more in Zimbabwe and four other African countries. After working for Unicef for more than a year starting in 2016, she joined the Higherlife board. Last year, she was appointed President and CEO of both Higherlife Foundation and Delta Philanthropies, a nonprofit impact investing fund that supports the same causes as Higherlife.

“My parents are very intentional in telling us that they don’t want to be remembered for the stuff they’ve done in technology. They wanted to be remembered for having impacted the lives of children in the country that our business operates in. So we knew that from a young age. But I think coming into the Next Gen made it a lot more real, especially as we were interacting with people of all ages,” says Masiyiwa.

Since that first meeting, she’s attended other Next Gen gatherings, even traveling with a group of 10 Next Gen members to Rwanda for a 10-day visit in 2019. During that time, they visited a Gates Foundation-backed hospital that specializes in cancer treatments and a village where each family had been given a cow as a source of income. “The trip to Rwanda was incredibly moving. We went to the genocide museum and memorials and sat with people in their homes. When you're in that context, barriers are broken down and the conversation becomes less about us and more about the world we live in and the world we want to see,” she says now.

The Giving Pledge’s Next Gen group has been operating since 2014 as a way for its members to find a community of trusted peers and resources to help them pursue their philanthropy. Membership is completely voluntary–not all Giving Pledge members’ children and grandchildren have chosen to participate. Some are still too young, including Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s three daughters. And who exactly is a Next Gen member is kept under wraps, unless they individually choose to go public, like Masiyiwa and Katherine Lorenz, a granddaughter of the late natural gas billionaire George P. Mitchell (d. 2013), who was one of the original 40 signers of the Giving Pledge.

The Next Gen members have never been invited to attend the Giving Pledge’s annual gathering - until now. This year’s event, taking place next week in an undisclosed location in Southern California, will bring together these different generations (about 100 Next Gen members are expected to attend) at a key time, when Giving Pledge members are aging. Nearly 50 of them are age 80 or older.

It’s also happening amid the largest ongoing intergenerational transfer of wealth in history. At least 22 of the 242 Giving Pledge members have died, meaning their heirs are likely in charge of fulfilling the promise to give away at least half of their fortune. The Pledgers promise to donate during their lifetimes or in their wills, and most appear to be leaving much of the giving until after they die.

Another reason why these Next Gen members are being invited is because many are already very involved in their families’ philanthropy compared to when the Giving Pledge launched in 2010.

For instance, Lorenz, 45, has been president of her grandparents’ Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, which among its causes supports clean energy and land conservation, since 2011. She’s also the leader of the Giving Pledge’s Next Gen group and played a key role in its creation. Lorenz describes how back in 2012, she reached out to the Giving Pledge team to ask whether they were thinking about programming for the next generation.

“The response was great enthusiasm – if there was interest and if there is leadership from within,” she recalls. Lorenz then spent most of the rest of that year reaching out to next generation folks she knew, and put together two dinners to discuss the idea. The first Next Gen gathering, with 24 attendees, was in 2014. Now the group has grown to 300 members from around the world ranging in age from 21 to 75.

Like the Giving Pledge, the Next Gen group has its own annual gathering, plus dinners a few times a year in different cities. The programming is often very concrete. Lorenz describes one Next Gen session where everyone took a personality test ahead of the meeting. The goal was to illustrate that different people make decisions in different ways. “It was helpful for me. There was a CEO type – that was me. I just make decisions,” she says. But other personalities need to have all the information before they can make a decision –and she realized that some people in her family fit into that camp.

Other topics have included how to raise children with philanthropic values, and what is the role of the spouse of a Next Gen. The group keeps in touch by both WhatsApp and email and is supported by members of the Giving Pledge staff.

One area where the group has helped is in spurring difficult conversations inside a family. “I think among wealth creators in the world, not just Giving Pledgers, there’s a hesitancy to speak with their kids and grandkids about what the plan is,” says Lorenz. That could be for a variety of reasons, she explains, from the fact that there is no plan, to concerns about not wanting to screw up their children’s lives or spoil them, to worries that the children are not ready to learn about future plans.

“I think one of the greatest contributions of the Next Gen group is giving the Next Gen the support and the understanding that actually these conversations need to happen–because once [the Pledgers] are gone, you can’t have them,” adds Lorenz. “Often this pledge is something that children or grandchildren didn’t know was going to happen.”

Another area of discussion is the pace of charitable giving. “Our family continues to be in dialogue about when or how to spend down the foundation. Conversations with other families and their staff as part of the Giving Pledge Next Gen have definitely sparked interest in several of our family members that have spurred us to have deeper dialogue about this,” says Lorenz.

“In particular, we have been inspired by Atlantic Philanthropies and their encouragement to spend down faster as a way to have more impact.” Chuck Feeney, the founder of Atlantic Philanthropies, had a goal of dying broke–and his foundation gave away all its assets before he died late last year.

“There are some inheritors who feel this whole idea of wealth generation and concentration is not fair to the world,” says Lorenz, adding that these people’s view is to get more of the money out faster during the Pledger’s lifetime, or just generally speed up the giving. “I think this is a push that’s coming from the next gen in many families,” she says.

One other topic sure to be discussed informally among the gathering’s attendees is the recent decision by Melinda French Gates to leave the Gates Foundation on June 7. French Gates created the Giving Pledge nearly 14 years ago with her then-husband Bill Gates and their friend Warren Buffett, and some involved see her as the heart of the Pledge. It’s not clear whether she will be attending the gathering; a spokesperson for the Giving Pledge says it is their policy not to share the attendance status of any Pledger–including Bill, Melinda and their three children.

“As co-founder of the Giving Pledge, Melinda remains deeply committed to this community and its impact. Her decision to resign from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does not affect that and she plans to remain engaged,” says a spokesperson for French Gates.

No matter what, the discussions that will take place both next week and in the future among this group of philanthropists are consequential. At stake is how, collectively, hundreds of billions of philanthropic dollars will be distributed. That will surely have ripple effects around the world.

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