Learning to Fly in Philanthropy: Novus Society’s Long Game

Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight at Kitty Hawk only lasted 12 seconds. Orville, piloting the new flying machine, traveled all of 120 ft.

As I write this, I’m on a plane travelling more than 300 miles through the air 30,000 feet above the Earth, on plane that offers me wi-fi, a full food and beverage menu, and satellite TV – along with a lot of other humans very close to me.

The Wright brothers might be amazed at what modern aeronautics can achieve, but they would surely not be disappointed, nor even surprised. (Of course, as introverts they would have been horrified if their seatmates were incessant talkers)  They knew they could achieve much more after that first successful flight. They focused on improving their machine with the goal of  making air travel a practical, everyday thing.

I see our Novus Society in a similar way. Novus Society offers emerging philanthropists under the age of 40 access to a donor-advised fund at a lower cost than a typical DonorsTrust account.

The folks joining Novus know they care about using a portion of their money, limited at this stage in life as it may be, to advance causes that capture their passion and beliefs.

Those of us who belong to Novus may not be able to put a long series of zeros in the amount box of our checks (and we’re probably unlikely to use a check anyway). However, we do have big goals for the changes we think we can bring about over time, the people we can help, and the principles we can support.

Getting Our Wings Under Us

Offering a simple giving tool is only the foundation of what Novus can offer its members.  Tools, though, only get you so far. The people with whom I discuss Novus  see the value of the base-level donor-advised fund. What gets them to join, though, is the excitement over the ways Novus will, as it builds, let them fly farther.

There are three benefits in particular that appeal to those enthused about Novus:

Learn from great givers

I benefited in my own humble charitable journey from early opportunities to engage with some of the most generous philanthropists in America. They helped me identify questions to ask to make my giving more effective, and they taught me the importance of saying, “no.”

The younger generation of givers will change the way philanthropy in America develops, just like future aviation engineers took elements of the Wright brothers’ designs in new directions. Yet those engineers had things to learn from the Wrights and other pioneers. So it is with us.

Today’s established generous givers have experienced hard lessons. They’ve forged new giving paths. They’ve also left things undone and want to challenge the next generation to pick up the baton.

Thanks to our connection to DonorsTrust, Novus Society will offer access to these established philanthropists in different ways.

Collaborate with peers

While we can benefit from engaging with older mentors, we can also learn from each other. A number of the younger givers I talk to tell me they believe philanthropy is important, but it isn’t necessarily something they discuss among their friends. That can be because their friends don’t think they can drive change, don’t feel like they have the capacity to give, or merely haven’t yet reached the point where it is important to them.

Everyone in the Novus Society, though, takes a different view of philanthropy. We see it as a critical feature of America’s social fabric. From supporting our church congregation, to a favorite job training program, to the state think tank, Novus members want to put their dollars where their heart is.

Through networking events, conference calls, and one-on-one idea sharing, we see Novus developing into a valued node in our social networks. It won’t replace any of the many groups that also engage our time. Hopefully, though, it will deepen the relationships of others within some of those groups because of a shared interest in philanthropy, while also building a like-minded network that pushes each of us into new areas.

Discover new causes

Even people who have worked in the liberty movement for many years don’t know the full gambit of groups working to support our principles. Likewise, I continually come across non-ideological traditional charities that support free-market principles in spaces that think tanks and other public policy organizations will never touch.

We need a way to discover these organizations that promote the ideas we care about most. Over time, our plan with Novus is to build out a tool that allows for that sort of discovery.

Whether you want to search for organizations by cause, location, or other variable, we hope to make it easy to find such groups that line up with your giving goals. Moreover, we want to allow other folks in the network to raise their hand and say, “I know about or support this charity – feel free to ask me about it.” It’s yet another way to allow for collaboration among our peers within Novus.

Getting Strategic

Charitable giving matters, and the U.S. is unique in the world in the way we value and engage with philanthropy. Still, charitable giving is a voluntary action, so it is easy to let “good” reasons opt us out of participating. Sometimes we let our fear of making a bad decision stop us from being part of this important act. Other times we worry that giving small amounts isn’t worth doing.

With Novus Society, we will challenge those limiting beliefs by helping those who want to give the chance to do so in a more strategic way, learning as we go how to have a real impact.

We may just be getting off the ground, but I – and many others – are excited to watch as this group takes flight and develops into the philanthropists of the future. 

Interested in learning more about Novus Society and how it might be a fit for your goals?
Discover more at www.novussociety.org, or call Peter Lipsett at 703-535-3563 for a deeper conversation on how to get started. 


  • Peter Lipsett

    Peter Lipsett is vice president at DonorsTrust. He also leads DonorsTrust’s Novus Society, a network of donors under 40 committed to growing their philanthropic know-how. He has a dual degree in political science and theater from Davidson College and finally got a practical credential with an MBA from George Mason University.

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