In charity, as in so much of life, there comes a time to shoulder responsibility. There comes an age and station in life when tossing a few coins in a red bucket or sorting cans for a few hours at a food shelf isn't enough. Not for talented people who are trained to lead.

Thankfully, that time came early for a small group of 20- and 30-year-old Twin Cities professionals, some of whom have familiar names like Burnet, Dayton and Hemsley, and the family resources that go with them. Last year, they came up with a terrific idea: Invite other young professionals to join them in taking a real plunge into philanthropy, and give them the skills and connections to do it well.

The result is the Leadership Emergence and Development Project, or LEAD for short. It's on a mission to find and prepare the next generation of major donors and governing board members for Twin Cities nonprofit organizations, so that they are ready to step into the leadership of those organizations as their parents' generation retires.

LEAD is looking for college-educated people under age 40 who care about their community and are willing to donate time and money for its betterment. It is offering information, networking, training in nonprofit governance -- and fun. Once each quarter, LEAD throws a $95-per-person party to raise money for a chosen charity, and let some of the 1,500 people on its e-mail list meet face-to-face. To date four parties have raised about $20,000 apiece.

LEAD also plays matchmaker betweeen volunteers and nonprofit agencies, considering the available time, talent and interests of each. It has already helped 90 people find a fitting outlet for their philanthropic impulses.

"We're trying to make a statement that young people are a financial resource," said Jessie Ostlund, LEAD's public relations team leader and, like everyone in the organization, a volunteer herself.

They're succeeding at that, and more. They're showing that a generation that grew up with virtual reality is yet attuned to the real reality around them, and is willing to give of themselves to make their communities better. They're breaking the stereotype of youthful self-absorption, and giving their elders reason for pride, and hope.