Living a later life with purpose is what we all desire, but we as a society need to do better at providing encouragement and opportunities for older persons who want to stay engaged in their communities. Although philanthropy has a role to play in these efforts, support for programs in aging represents less than 2 percent of charitable giving, a number that has not grown in 20 years even as the percentage of Americans over 65 has doubled.
It may seem logical that philanthropists of all ages would embrace the opportunities inherent in all aspects of population aging, but we seem to be stuck. We need to recognize that there is much room for aging-focused philanthropy, that we can change countless lives by supporting programs and organizations that foster purposeful aging. Health-care costs and caregiving needs will only grow; retirement norms leave many people financially and mentally adrift; and the world’s many problems need the engagement and experience of older people.
Donors may fear their contributions can’t make a difference in such a broad arena. But older people are one of our greatest resources, and providing them opportunities for living with purpose is a win-win situation for everyone. Philanthropic leadership can emphasize the urgency and help catalyze wider efforts to foster purpose. It can set the standard and, in the process, propel a dramatic societal change to redefine aging. Philanthropy can take the lead in creating new attitudes and elevating purpose as a goal that all should pursue.
The essay was published in the report titled The Power of Purpose: Culture Change and the New Demography.