Meet the Cultural Creatives, But Don’t Try to Sell Them Anything

When we think of demographics, it’s easy to get weighed down in numbers based on age and ethnicity. At Wednesday’s Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers Annual Meeting, Dr . Paul H. Ray offered a new lens through which to view this data: values. Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers President Tamara Copeland said, “Numbers are only a part of the story. Our values determine how we respond to those numbers. We need to understand both.”

In Ray’s book, Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World, he classifies people by value systems rather than ethnic or economic indicators. Three groups emerge: Traditionals, Moderns, and Cultural Creatives. Those in the Traditional set are cultural conservatives. Moderns represent what we might call the mainstream, people who are success-oriented and well represented in the media. Ray defines Cultural Creatives as those people whose primary interests include authenticity, life-long learning, idealism, activism, globalism, ecology, feminism, and spirituality (though this does not necessarily mean religious).

Cultural Creatives represent about 35% of the population and, according to Ray’s research, they are growing. It’s important for philanthropy to take note here, because they also happen to be the group that volunteers and donates the most. In addition, they tend to be the opinion leaders in areas of social change.
So how do you reach these people? Authenticity is the key. Ray says Cultural Creatives see right through glossy marketing campaigns. If you try to sell them something, they’re not buying. Cultural Creatives want to learn and they want to learn with you. As this group grows, it will become increasingly important for grantees and foundations to tell their own stories. Foundations, Ray says, must clarify their values in relation to each project and grant. Cultural Creatives want to know how things work and why.

We’re all well away of the browning and graying of the population, but if the trends described in Ray’s book hold up, philanthropy will also have to contend with the rising tide of Cultural Creatives to be successful in the decades ahead.

Learn more about Dr. Ray’s work at


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