10/23/2014 05:50 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

Philanthropy for a New Age: Predictions From the 1999 White House Conference

Fifteen years ago this week, philanthropists and other leaders gathered in the White House -- and thousands more watched at sites across the country -- to explore the future of charitable giving in the new Millennium. This first ever White House Conference on Philanthropy, organized by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, laid out an agenda that foreshadowed today's important trends.

Speaking at the event, 'NSYNC boy band member Justin Timberlake spoke on the topic of youth philanthropy. Scanning the room of silver-haired philanthropic leaders, Timberlake, then 18, noted that "this is not my usual demographic." Timberlake had a place on the dais to speak about his own support of music education, and has gone on to become a donor to a range of causes. The youth that Timberlake represented are on track to become a similarly generous generation -- in fact, surveys show that Millennials volunteer at higher rates than previous generations and 60 percent of Millennials give to charity.

The day also featured the different ways that communities of color contribute and highlighted giving by ordinary Americans, such as Mat Dawson, a 79-year-old who donated more than $1 million in savings from his job as a forklift operator, and Matthew Nonnemacher, an 11-year-old whose United Way penny drive raised $18,000.

Online giving -- a recent phenomenon in 1999, the year after Google was founded -- was also highlighted. AOL CEO Steve Case discussed the AOL Foundation's new "ephilanthropy" site and Independent Sector pledged to host a convening for nonprofit leaders to discuss the emerging role of the internet in philanthropy.

Fifteen years later, all of these trends have converged in crowdfunding, tying the preference of Millennial givers for online giving to the power of small gifts. In 2012, $1.6 billion was given to charities through crowdfunding. That amount is likely to grow exponentially as this generation increases its wealth over the next decades and is joined by today's youth, a yet-unnamed generation, that has never known a time without digital tools.

Other speakers spoke to new forms of philanthropy that were just taking hold, including venture philanthropy and corporate volunteering.

At the event, President Clinton announced the creation of a White House Task Force on Nonprofits and Government, to inventory best practices for partnerships. The Task Force released its report at a second conference, just days from the end of the Clinton Administration, highlighting partnerships between the federal government and the private sector, such as the Welfare to Work Partnership, which challenged companies to pledge to hire just one individual off of public assistance and resulted in 20,000 businesses taking action.

The full potential of these approaches has yet to be realized. This White House Conference took place at the height of the tech bubble, after eight years of unprecedented economic growth. Today the need for giving and partnerships is even more urgent. There are few big challenges facing the US that can be solved by government alone. Finding ways for public policy to leverage private action ought to be a central strategy of leaders at every level of government, not as an excuse for government inaction, but rather as a way to powerfully extend its impact.

The Obama Administration's Social Innovation Fund, developed with America Forward, is a great example of such a partnership. Through the fund, federal dollars match investments by venture philanthropy in organizations delivering evidence-based interventions. To date, $178 million federal dollars and $423 million in non-federal commitments have helped to grow 217 nonprofits in 37 states and the District of Columbia. A pilot Pay for Success program, now part of the Social Innovation Fund, will take this concept even further by supporting ways for state and local governments to leverages philanthropic and private dollars to fund services up front, with the government paying after they generate results.

National service similarly represents a powerful partnership among government, nonprofit organizations and private funders. AmeriCorps, the federal government's largest investment in national service, enables more than 75,000 Americans to serve full-time or part-time for a year to meet the biggest challenges facing communities. This program, created by President Clinton but championed by presidents of both parties, leverages both private matching dollars and the time and talents of Americans who serve.

Today, building on this base, the congressionally chartered nonprofit National Conference on Citizenship is creating a technology platform, known as the Service Year Exchange, to help organizations create new positions with private funding, enable young people find positions (whether funded by AmeriCorps or private sources) and help service year organizations raise money through crowdfunding. This platform will launch next fall in partnership with the National Service Alliance announced at this year's Clinton Global Initiative, and will eventually include tools to accelerate the education and employment of those who serve.

Now more than ever we need the commitment of our citizens to match the contributions of government. As First Lady Hillary Clinton commented at the 1999 White House Conference on Philanthropy,

Just imagine what revolutionary progress we could bring to America, how many lives we could change, if every American family increased their giving by just 1 percent of their income. We could offer child care to more than 6 million children. We could deliver 250 million more meals to the homebound elderly. We could guarantee Head Start to every low-income preschooler in America. We could provide shelter to 4 million people. We could save all the rare books in our libraries--and still have more than enough money left over to create the equivalent of the Ford Foundation each year.

Add to that the power of one million Americans doing a service year, providing tutors to every struggling student and new immigrant wanting to learn English, and teams to turn around blighted neighborhoods and preserve our natural lands.