Ageism Rampant in Charitable Foundation Giving


Members of the Council of Foundations and the MN Council on Foundations might claim that they honor diverse groups across the wide economic, racial, ethnic and social spectrum. They might claim to work strategically to improve the vitality and health of communities through their charitable giving. That might be true to a great extent, unless you’re part of the older adult segment of society.

The MN Council on Foundations just released its statistics on 2011 and the picture on funding for older adults at our state level is bleak. Charitable giving to older adults was 1.8% of the entire charitable giving pot. Children and youth received 23.3%, adults 11.3% and all other beneficiary groups 63.6%. This is appalling at a time when 10,000 people are turning 65 every day.

The statistics are grim at the national level as well. Go to the website: Click on “all population groups,” and you will see older adults fared almost as poorly at the national level as they did in MN in 2011 at a scant 2%.

We need to question why this disparity exists. Unfortunately, I believe the answer is a reflection of the value society places on older adults and is the last form of discrimination widely accepted by society: ageism. Our charitable organizations are the last place one would expect to find discrimination as they are known to embrace and help even the broken and downtrodden. I’m not saying that older adults as a group are broken and downtrodden. I’m simply saying that ageism is prevalent against them in a sector known for its philanthropy. There is no place for discrimination in society, let alone our philanthropic organizations.

Foundations have the resources to alleviate many problems and create enrichment opportunities for all segments of society. Education of foundations at the local, regional, state and national levels regarding the fact that statistics show age discrimination exists in their giving is imperative. Since they are in control of where, what and to whom they want their funding to go, I don’t think there is anything other than education that can compel them to consider giving to the older adult population.

Still the state of charitable giving is currently a sad statement on the value charitable giving foundations place on older adults. In fact, for those of us sensitive to their needs because we serve the older adult population, it is a loud, almost deafening proclamation that age discrimination exists in the focus of charitable giving organizations.

The bottom line is, numbers don’t lie. Our charitable foundations are leaving older adults out in the cold when there is room at the table for all age groups. Check out the statistics in your state through your state Council on Foundations. I’d be interested to hear how your state is faring in charitable giving to older adults as compared to other age groups. Please send me your comments if you find out.

Advocates for older adults from every sector – senior centers, senior housing, senior healthcare workers, social services, etc. – need to speak out on the disparity and age discrimination that exists in charitable funding in state and national foundations. The sooner the better!


  1. Well-researched information on a significant matter. If you add in all the momentum to reduce so-called government “entitlements” for those 65 or over, the extent of ageism is shocking.


    • Thanks, Madeline. This does not seem like a good time to be growing older as society sees older adults as taking away jobs from the young, and possessing all the stereotypical traits. We have allowed ageism to pervade our minds and beliefs and become as significant as a national monument in this enlightened, modern age.



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