Bringing family members together to invest philanthropically is a game changer, but organized giving can challenge the strongest of families. It’s about generosity, but it can also feel like a time-consuming obligation. It can be messy and administratively intensive. And that’s all before you start to measure social ROI.
Maybe it’s time to think about values instead of giving. Identify the things your parents and grandparents cared about. It might not mean much at first, but it can be an exercise in strengthening family bonds. Maybe your grandfather was on a hospital board, but you’re not interested in giving to hospitals; maybe your mother volunteered at your school and you’re not exactly excited about giving to an educational system that doesn’t demonstrate year over year improvement.
Philanthropy means “love of human kind” not “giving to nonprofit organizations through a 501(C)(3) PF.” Traditional sources of philanthropy have in the past driven how it’s done. Research shows that tax efficiency is less important as a driver than it was just a few years ago. Donor Advised Funds can be versatile vehicles, but they are also transactional. Goals and intent need to drive the source and not the other way around. Most high net worth families give directly through a checkbook or personal assets, outside a formalized family giving structure.
Millennials care deeply about family values, according to research but they want to actualize them differently. Sometimes that means finding new ways to explore social investing. They want to use new sources and methods in diligence and most importantly they want to use their skills and knowledge and not just their financial resources. While almost all wealth generators feel it’s important to talk to the rising generation about money, I often hear that they just don’t know where to start.
Smart giving doesn’t just benefit causes it creates purpose. Business owners pour blood, sweat and tears into business only to be at a loss for meaning and purpose when a business is sold. Vacations and shopping are great but deploying problem solving talents and resources to fill a need, well that’s what makes entrepreneurs successful in the first place. Being on either side of a liquidity event is an inflection point that’s ripe for conversations about intentional philanthropy, either individually or with your wider family.
The times around celebrations and memorials that bring families together either joyfully or somberly are also moments in time to think about philanthropy. Lifecycle events like marriages, divorces, deaths and graduations are times to engage the rising generation in learning and collaboration that can instill values and cement a legacy.
Families are families. Everyone has stories about being teased and slighted and everyone has their favorite aunts, nephews, and siblings. That’s just human nature. The reasons for bringing family members to the table, (and that’s the board table not the dinner table), transcend past behavior and current feelings of like or dislike. That said, choosing who sits there, at least initially, and the policies and framework for meeting and decision making is a bespoke task for each family and one that is critical for success. Outside advisers can customize a governance model and process specific to a founders’ intent in a way that builds legacy and honors the intentions and activities of other members. Advisers act as honest brokers bringing internal and external information to the conversation to set the table for success.
An opportunity for the member who drives organized giving is to create a framework for that giving and codify it in a legal document, either by-laws, a trust document and in a covenant with other members like a meeting agreement and position descriptions for trustees. These documents should frame membership, criteria for service for family and possibly non-family members, outline terms and succession, and clearly frame a process for learning and decision making. These are messy, thorny conversations that can set the table for future collaborations that spill over into other parts of family life and values.
Philanthropy brings connection, meaning and purpose into a family, often at a moment in time when it is most needed. Family members who may seem distant and uninterested can rise to the occasion with surprising insights when the board table is set with guidelines for decision making and inclusion. Organized philanthropy has surprisingly wonderful benefits for givers.