COMMENTARY: The Fourth Turning … and what has it got to do with Fundraising? Part II

publication date: Jan 20, 2022
author/source: Ken Ramsay

See Part One of this article series here:

In their book, The Fourth Turning, Strauss and Howe construct an array of prophesies that could occur in the current "fourth turning/Crisis" trend based on what happened in previous historical fourth turnings.





Description in Anglo-America



"American High"


  • Surprising accord with industry and labour
  • Advent of the United Nations
  • High optimism for the future, growth of middle class
  • High trust and energy
  • Ends with the Kennedy assassination



"Consciousness Revolution"


  • Boomer rebellion, questioning society’s values, Vietnam War
  • Increasing violence for personal freedom, cultural upheaval
  • Rights revolutions (civil, sexual, women’s, etc.)
  • Still acceptance of the good life and society’s security and benefits
  • Growing economic instability, low productivity, stagflation
  • Parenting changes to focus on the freedom of the child



"Culture Wars"


  • Reagan era in the U.S., defeat of Consciousness Revolution and population content with high self-esteem
  • Public trust sinking but growing individual expression
  • Growing personal insecurity and start of the "Culture Wars"
  • Societal lost purpose and shattered consensus
  • Growing pessimism and everyone "for themselves" attitude



"The Fourth Turning"

2005– 2025 to 2030

  • Fourth Turning Prophecy


The last fourth turning was 1930 to 1950, spanning the Great Depression and the Second World War. Here are some of the predictions that Strauss and Howe postulated in 1997 when they wrote this book. (Note: they did preface their forecasts as happening or not happening to various degree during the period of 2005 to 2030.)

  • A fiscal crisis, unbearable government debt, cyber terrorism of government databases.
  • Global terrorism attacks U.S. assets causing retaliation on foreign soil.
  • Budget conflict in the U.S. causing a government shutdown.
  • Spread of a new communicable virus into densely populated areas prompting mandatory quarantine.
  • Urban gangs battle suburban militias.
  • Russia expands at its borders including into Black Sea republics.

Notice how many of these predictions have come to pass in some form over the past 16 years. The authors stress that they probably won’t transpire exactly as prophesied but these are the types of events that can take place in a fourth turning. In general, here’s what happens in an era of Crisis:

  • Tearing of civic fabric, local crisis will spread through society and globally.
  • Decline in civic confidence, greater distrust in institutions, greater individualism and survivalist mentality.
  • Economic implosion and rebellion against the financial structures. Potential colossal shakeup of the financial world with large devaluation of assets.
  • High unemployment, mounting poverty, currency devaluation.
  • Destruction of civic order.
  • As the fourth turning progresses there will be a movement to simpler values, a strengthening of local community, a desire for human connection and a heightened wariness of control and manipulation by government and institutions.

If you step back and suspend your linear frame for seeing the world, you can see a plethora of hallmarks of the fourth turning right here, right now.

Strauss and Howe maintain that such "turnings" are simply society moving through its natural, historical cycle and there is an inevitability that will happen as has happened many times before. It is as if society runs down a certain course, leading to more and more unhealthy extremes and needs a re-set. The fourth turning climaxes in the re-set. Out of this fourth turning will come something new and fresh which gives us the opportunity to ask:

  • What will American life (and global life for that matter) look like over the next 4 to 9 years?
  • What will society as a whole, look like?
  • How destructive will the "Crisis" be?
  • How will new institutions emerge? And what will they look like?
  • What new collective values, and new collective focus will emerge in our lives and in society?
  • What will charities and foundations look like?

Considering these questions, led me to also ask:

  1. “What has any of this got to do with fundraising?”
  2. “What can we do now as the The Fourth Turning unfolds before us?”

Coming in PART III: Strategies for fundraising through to the end of The Fourth Turning.

Ken Ramsay, is one of the most experienced planned giving professionals in North America. As President and CEO of Legacy Leaders Inc. from 1996 to 2014, Ken radically changed the way fundraising was done,  securing over $2 billion in gift expectancies for hundreds of clients. He was the founding Chair of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners and co-founded with Frank Minton and Betsy Mangone, the course on Planned Giving at the Banff School for Management. He is currently the CEO of Empowerment Dialogue Inc and the Avatar Consulting Group.

He invites your comments and thoughts on this article.

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