Trustafarians to the Ramparts: A Millennial Donor Network Aims to Resist Trump

When the Trump administration’s immigration ban was first announced, we couldn’t help but point out the initial striking silence about the executive order from many major foundations. And while quite a few top funders have now signed on to a joint statement condemning the ban, many have remained mute in their press rooms and social media feeds. 

Meanwhile, other parts of the philanthrosphere have been seething with anger and outrage, as we've been reporting. One of the toughest statements we've seen yet is this blog post from Resource Generation (RG), a group  that "organizes young people with wealth and class privilege in the U.S. to become transformative leaders working towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power." In no uncertain terms, Resource Generation called the ban “immoral,” “racist,” and “Islamophobic,” and suggested ways for donors and activists to resist. 

With a membership consisting of young people (ages 18-35) with access to “more resources than they need,” Resource Generation represents, in a very literal way, that looming multi-trillion dollar intergenerational wealth transfer you're always hearing about. While the vast majority of millennials have modest expectations around inheritance and earnings, a sliver can expect to come into substantial wealth—and, in some cases, already have the resources to engage in significant giving.  

Since its founding in the late 1990s, emerging out of retreats and conferences, Resource Generation has been unabashedly progressive. Building on early partnerships with the Tides Foundation, the Third Wave Foundation, and the Funding Exchange, RG encourages young people with wealth to acknowledge their class privilege and use it to make the world more fair. There’s a clear focus on combating racism and gender-based discrimination, as well as prejudice against the LGBT community.

Resource Generation doesn’t make grants, instead focusing on how to develop its members as engaged activists and philanthropists. It's keen to shape the ongoing evolution of the millennial donor class: how it gives, what it prioritizes, and who leads the charge. Organized across a network of local chapters throughout the country, RG hosts retreats where members learn the ins and outs of collective action and cause-oriented leadership. Members also learn how to manage family philanthropy and steer it in a progressive direction.

At a moment when there's a lot of discussion in philanthropy over how to respond to Trump and the populist right, and quite a bit of trepidation among some funders, it's interesting to take a closer look at RG's willingness—eagerness even—to dive headfirst into confrontation.

To learn more about the group’s strong response to the immigration ban, we reached out to Iimay Ho, Resource Generation's new executive director.

She highlighted the historic wealth transfer underway and linked it to the imperatives of the moment, saying that “as millennials start to receive their inheritances and unearned wealth, we have a responsibility to align our money with our values. Young people with wealth who do not share Trump’s agenda have a responsibility to take a stand.” 

Ho pointed out how entrenched myths around money helped fuel Trump’s campaign, “like the idea that being a billionaire automatically gives someone the right to govern.” In its programming, RG stresses the importance of social justice activism that avoids philanthropic entitlement, emphasizing cross-class relationships and leadership from the bottom up. 

RG outlines its recommendations for social justice giving in its Giving Guide. A big one: Give for general operating support and trust staff to use money effectively. Another: Give to pooled funds and intermediaries run by activists on the ground, especially if you’re new to philanthropy. Around immigration, RG members are giving to rapid-response funds, bail funds, deportation defense funds, and initiatives like United We Dream’s #HereToStay. 

RG also partners with donor networks like Solidaire, the Women Donors Network, and Threshold, which recently created the Emergent Fund. Rather than embracing the concept, now in vogue, that identity politics weakened the left, these funds are doubling down on diversity and equal rights. In addition to the Emergent Fund, Ho mentioned how Funders for Justice, a project of the Neighborhood Funders Group, is organizing stakeholders to respond to criminal justice abuses in the Trump era. 

From its earliest days, RG has emphasized how important it is to address root causes and think systemically. Among other things, the group has lately been organizing for tax justice—that is, vocally supporting higher tax rates for the wealthy. The idea, here, is that calls for more taxes on the rich are especially persuasive when they come from the rich, and we've explored other efforts by wealthy activists along these lines organized by groups like the Patriotic Millionaires and United for a Fair Economy. 

RelatedICYMI: Here's a Bunch of Philanthropists Who'd Also Like to Give More in Taxes

To the eternal annoyance of conservative funders, heirs don't always inherit their ancestors’ beliefs about capitalism's virtues along with their fortunes. And one of the great battles in the upper class is over who will control the vast wealth created during a second Gilded Age, and how this money will be deployed through philanthropy. Trump's rise has the potential to influence this struggle by creating a new sense of urgency among wealthy young heirs to get engaged and try to make a difference. In that sense, the scary Trump era represents a major opportunity for Resource Generation to expand its reach and influence.