When Nykeesha Griffin was about 10, she began to notice that the world is populated with two kinds of people: the haves and the have-nots.
“I started to grasp the concept, and I didn’t understand why anyone would ever go without when there are so many resources available,” Griffin says.
Today, the Seattle native does what she can to help remedy that imbalance by giving volunteer hours and financial support to what she calls “causes that speak to my heart.” By example, she hopes to also instill a giving spirit in her teenage daughters, 16-year-old Tyra and 15-year-old Nyshae.
The value of giving
When Erica Wiley talks about those who “live their values,” she’s talking about people like Griffin.
In Wiley’s view, charitable giving is more a lifelong journey than a one-time event, with different age groups demonstrating unique habits and behaviors.
Wiley ought to know, because she’s vice president of development at United Way of King County, which raised more than $81 million in public support in 2020, using it to improve the quality of life for millions of local residents.
Wiley says one’s “philanthropic journey” often begins in youth, when many parents use what she terms “the three-jar method” to instill in their children the value of giving. (One jar is for spending, one for saving and one for giving.)
“We talk to parents about ‘How do I instill my values in my kids?’ That can be some of the early conversation. Sometimes it can be through volunteering,” she says.
That’s where Griffin’s children began their philanthropic journey.
“They have come along with me to volunteer many times, and in some cases have initiated things, such as my eldest daughter asking me if we could feed the homeless for Christmas,” Griffin says.
The girls also learn by example. Their mother, who is employed by a local tech firm, is a former board member at Communities in Schools of Seattle, and supports a variety of nonprofit organizations, including Nurturing Roots, Acts on Stage and AfricaTown Community Land Trust.
The importance of legacy
Later in life, donors are likely to pivot from grassroots causes to support larger organizations with far-reaching programs, Wiley says.
Griffin’s journey backs that up.
“As you grow older and wiser, you discover the reality that we are not meant to live life without companionship and community,” she says. “Financial resources become less significant, and your legacy takes priority.
“I think that grassroots efforts are easier for a younger generation who are more closely connected to their community and less likely to hone in on making a bigger impact by aligning with a large organization, as people seem to gravitate to in their later years in life.”
Wiley says the fastest-growing source of funding in the nonprofit world is in donor-advised funds (DAFs), which are charitable investment accounts that allow donors to support specific IRS-qualified causes over time while taking an immediate tax deduction.
Wiley says a typical donor who’d use a DAF is a professional who is eyeing their long-term earnings as well as their tax liabilities.
“Say you’re a mid-level Amazon [executive] with a salary of $150,000 and 500 shares over five years,” she says. “As that stock vests, it will often result in significant cash events, along with not-insignificant capital gains.”
The challenge for nonprofits
Nationally, fewer people are giving to nonprofit organizations, a trend that Wiley attributes to decreasing membership in religious organizations, a shrinking middle class and the decline of workplace fund-drive campaigns.
Despite the national trend, the Puget Sound region is particularly fertile soil for nonprofits, Wiley says, because of its high concentration of affluent professionals and progressive social climate.
For Griffin’s part, she sees challenges as well as hope.
“Living through a pandemic has opened many people’s eyes to the nuances of inequitable resourcing in our country,” she says. “If we raise children to have empathy for others, they will not wait until they are in need to understand why helping is essential.”