THE BLOG
03/28/2014 05:23 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2014

Peter and the Wolf : How the Opera Is Dying With Its Patrons

The announcement of the closing of the San Diego Opera is a tale of caution for nonprofits and a good lesson about engaging the next generation of donors.

There were a few philanthropic issues working against the San Diego Opera that resulted in its ultimate demise.

- First, the arts sector only receives five percent of the $316.23 billion philanthropic contributions made in the United States.

- Second, the Opera was sustained for many years by a few multi-million dollar donations that were not renewed.

- Third, these donations came from a dying breed, older donors: Matures (1945 and earlier, 26 percent of all philanthropists in U.S.) and Baby Boomers (1946-1964, 43 percent of all philanthropists in U.S.).

- Fourth, philanthropic support of the arts declines by age of donor: Matures consider arts to be a 14 percent philanthropic priority compared to a six percent philanthropic priority of Baby Boomers, seven percent of Gen X, and four percent of Gen Y.

It should not come as a surprise that the Opera is closing.

However, the Opera may have overlooked the up and coming generations as donors. While Gen X and Gen Y, give less now, they are the future major donors of nonprofit organizations. Together these younger generations donate a total of $44.51 billion each year. Not bad for a bunch of young kids!

Gen X (1965-1980)

• $28.72 billion in philanthropic donations (20 percent of total philanthropic giving among the four generations)
• 39.5 million donors (59 percent of the Gen X population makes donations)
• $732 average annual gift

Gen Y (1981-1995)

• $15.79 billion in philanthropic donations (11 percent of total philanthropic giving among the four generations)
• 32.8 million donors (60 percent of the Gen Y population makes donations)
• $481 average annual gift

The best news is that these younger donors plan to increase their charitable contributions to their top charity next year: 21 percent of Gen Y donors say they will give more, compared with 10 percent of Boomers or Matures. Gen Y donors also predict personal giving to their top charity will grow by an average of 18 percent in the coming year, compared with a predicted average decline by Matures of four percent.

While giving is declining from our older, wealthier generations, the younger generations are planning to give more each year. And there are wealthy young philanthropists already leading the way.

In 2013, Gen Y's Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, and his wife Priscilla Chan, donated the largest gift of the year by giving 18 million shares of Facebook stock worth over $990 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
Additionally, Matures and Baby Boomers are passing their philanthropic duties and dollars down to their children and grandchildren. Gen X and Y will inherit over $40 trillion in wealth, much designated for charitable giving, over the first half of the 21st century.

To stay alive, an art nonprofit organization must engage the next generation of major donors now. Gen Xers tend to give the same amount to their top charity every year, typically for seven years. Getting on the younger generations philanthropic radar now, could have big pay off down the road.

Good examples of art organizations in San Diego effectively engaging their younger donor audience is the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego who just hosted their Spring Thing through their Avant Garde Group (under 40 membership group), San Diego Museum of Art and their Culture & Cocktail events, La Jolla Music Society's Allegro Society, and the Museum of Photographic Arts POP! Thursdays.

The key to "bringing sexy (and donations) back" to the arts, is engaging the younger generations in a hip, creative way with the arts today.