Philanthropy can bring the members of a family great satisfaction.  It is an opportunity for them to come together to express their shared values, all to benefit wider society.  Yet, for the same reason, it can also bring them great frustration.

Families who give face the unique challenge of reconciling the views of different generations, who are often differ in outlook, experience, and aspiration.  To negotiate such a dynamic successfully is difficult, but deeply rewarding.  So I propose three tips to make this process easier.

The first and most obvious step for family members is to define their mission.  Though no simple feat, it should be an enjoyable one, as it presents an opportunity for them to examine the world, and to find the intersection between need or opportunity and their interests, shared goals, and competencies.  A family retreat, where everyone is gathered, can serve as the ideal place for such a discussion, and most families who pursue this route confirm of the benefit of using outside facilitators.

Following the establishment of a common mission, however, the work is only beginning.  Members of the younger generation often benefit from being eased into the grant-making process, since the sudden responsibility of allocating significant funds can be overwhelming, even disempowering.  Families might therefore consider creating a junior board, or “next-generation committee” (with smaller financial resources and lower stakes) within the family’s philanthropic model.  This can be an effective way of engaging younger generations in the family’s philanthropic mission—providing newcomers with first-hand, practical grant-making experience before they move up into the broader governance process.

Finally, it is important to remember that individual family members may have funding interests which may sit somewhere outside the family’s chosen issue areas.  In such cases, it may be prudent to set aside additional funding outside the ‘collective pot’, so that they can explore their own particular philanthropic interests.  This can be a useful way to accommodate personal growth within the umbrella of the family model, which in turn can strengthen the core of the family’s giving.

The challenges of family philanthropy are many.  However, as can seen from the above, they can—with a little creativity, and a great deal of enthusiasm—be readily addressed, to the great benefit of donors, their families, and the wider world.   


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