Posts tagged ‘family philanthropy’
December 23rd, 2012
Any of us who help facilitate family retreats and board meetings know that sensitivity to what different members bring to the table is essential. Words, experiences, and expectations can mean such different things to those sitting around the table. And, let’s face it, in families, those differences can be quite personal.
We often find ourselves in the role of “translator”, educator, and even peacemaker as well as facilitator in such settings. Often simply demonstrating that the differing perspectives are in fact quite generic issues which underlie all philanthropic decisions can assuage and de-fuse. My colleagues and I may utilize different methods to get there, but the goals are the same: good decision-making, amicable family interactions, shared vision, common legacy.
Not that many years ago, it was almost de rigueur to have to interpret profound cultural changes which defined and informed the attitudes of younger and older members of a family. Older members believed in loyalty to established organizations, long-term commitments, the value of intermediaries, inter alia. Younger folk believed in more direct and transitory involvements, the need to know that philanthropic gifts are going directly to the causes they believe in, the ability to network and make their own informed decisions. Ironically, the underlying values between generations may be quite aligned, but how they manifest their philanthropic choices may be profoundly different.
10 and even 5 years ago, it was rare indeed when there wasn’t an a-ha moment when all of this was explained. A retreat or meeting which didn’t structure time for these insights was a lost opportunity. Explaining and translating had results: opinions may or may not have been changed but attitudes almost always did.
Today, however, it is less necessary. Not only do we find that many, if not most, families have worked through their differing world views, but more crucially, it is quite common to find that the generation divide simply isn’t there. What has changed? One thing for sure: As the baby boomers become the senior members of their families, they often find themselves more aligned with the younger generations than the elder. Most came of age post-Watergate [or – pick your historic disillusioning moment], with less assumed conviction that larger institutions will have the best interests of individuals or society at large. [Need I give contemporaneous examples?] Many lived through the 60’s and were forever influenced by its cultural optimism and political pessimism. When younger cohorts question the structures, efficiencies, outcomes, and impact of traditional philanthropic entities, these Boomers get it – even when it isn’t exactly the way they might approach their own philanthropic commitments.
It is also true that the philanthropy environment itself has changed. Major foundations and philanthropists have publicly committed themselves to some form of spend-down. The sector itself is a part of the public debate on budgets, taxes, and the communal weal. Major articles about philanthropy, sometimes laudatory, sometimes scandalous, are everywhere. Social networking has become prevalent across generations. Philanthropy networks have proliferated – for better or worse. And every wealth management firm has publicized its philanthropy advisory “expertise.”
All of these changes have led to significant changes in the character of many family retreats and meetings. They may or may not fully understand what they are demanding, but metrics, accountability, impact, alternative investments are terms which arise with surprising frequency. The conversations, even if not the ultimate decisions, start from a very different place than they did a decade ago.
Now, we all know that inter-generational and intra-family dynamics will always provide an interesting, ofttimes challenging, backdrop to any family meeting. Those complex relationships transcend questions of philanthropy. There is little likelihood that experts in family systems will soon be at a loss for business. And indeed, we all know that long-term unresolved family tensions can never be solved through philanthropy.
But what does seem to have changed is the inter-generational philanthropy divide. It hasn’t disappeared, of course, but it is a gap so narrowed that it is no longer the predictable center in family philanthropy discussions.
September 24th, 2012
About 12 years ago, a prominent philanthropist and community leader, then in his mid-60’s, confessed something to me. His father, the one who made the money and was an even more prominent philanthropist and community leader, had recently died. This scion confessed to me that until his father died, he had never deposited a check, paid a bill, or reviewed a tax return. His own children were grown and establishing themselves, yet he, for the first time in his life, felt that he was entering adulthood.
That story isn’t mine, but could easily have been my mother’s. The daughter of a wealthy financier, she was an only surviving child, and spoiled and coddled in a way from which she never recovered. We learned, after my father’s passing, that my mother had a similar narrative to the previous one. Despite having earned two degrees from an Ivy League university, she simply was never willing to pay a moment’s attention to money – or any of the responsibilities surrounding it, including philanthropy. The narrative of how her father’s charitable generosity interfered with her childhood life was an all too frequently told story. This continued to her death since, after my father died, I then managed all of those “nuisance” details such as bills, deposits, banks, taxes, etc, until she too passed away. The difference between the gentleman mentioned above and my mother is that she was never able to deal with those vicissitudes of adulthood.
As you can gather, I am thus a 3rd generation philanthropy person – one who has seen and been a part of the great gratification that philanthropy gave my grandfather, and the less benign feelings of my mother. As one who now advises and teaches many family funders, I have become aware that, give or take some details, my third-generation story is not so out of line with many others. But, what makes it worthy of comment is that, while it is not unique, it is also not very typical for people of my generation. In fact, it is a more common story among the large number of 20-40 year old next-gen’s [a phrase I really dislike!]. Probably it is not so surprising how many of these younger folk confide in me, seek my advice, or take our courses. And, when helping to mediate inter-generational misunderstanding, or helping to determine if and how succession should take place within a family foundation, I often find myself with more empathy with those a generation younger, perhaps because I experienced much of what many of them do now.
The more one is involved in family philanthropy, the more frequently one is reminded that family relationships transcend the characteristics and limits of workplace and board room dynamics. In a family, on a very primal level, every decision is personal – on both the positive and negative level. Every decision is informed by a lifetime of connections, experiences, expectations. How and when does one agree or disagree with parents, grandparents, siblings, offspring, uncles, aunts, cousins? How does one know when the reactions to a grant request are to the proposal or to the proposer? Do family courtesies mandate that one “go-along” with the founder’s preferences even when you disagree, or do family relations lead to hostile reactions to projects which really are not that far apart? What claim should legacy have when everyone has literally and figuratively moved away?
As some of you may recall from a previous posting, several years ago, I facilitated a workshop on family philanthropy for a substantial number of philanthropists from around the world. Much to their surprise, they found that the dynamics they experienced with their own families were quite consistent no matter where in the world they were from. Perhaps nothing is as consistent in philanthropy as family dynamics.
In my work and in my teaching, there are distinct challenges to establish credibility with families, and even greater ones to have long-lasting impact on the way they work. In doing so, I have certain advantages, but it took me a lot of years to fully understand them. In my youth, I personally experienced how not to do this – how money can distort and disrupt and how philanthropy can come to symbolize that dysfunction. It took me many years to know what wisdom to take away from all that. Fortunately, I have also worked with and observed many who have done this much better. And increasingly, I am seeing lots of family funders who are asking the right questions earlier so that children and grandchildren will be acculturated in healthy and productive ways and also how the founders’ themselves can behave in ways to enable thee productive transitions.
Philanthropy is going through many rapid, even cataclysmic changes these days. Some of them are changing the very landscape in profound ways; others, I am sure, will prove to be nothing more than fads. What will never change, though, is the significance that “family” does and will play in the philanthropy environment. If being a 3rd generation type has taught me anything, it is how important a role that plays. And when done well, it can be one of the greatest experiences a family can share.
As if on cue, no sooner did I post this yesterday morning when I had two conversations which illustrated these complexities. Professional discretion and ethics won’t allow me to give many details but the coincidental timing of the two within just a couple of hours was noteworthy.
Convo #1: A family member of a family foundation board told me that there is a suit involving siblings because of death-bed changes regarding the control of the family foundation. The now favored son of the founder is left with virtually full control of the foundation and has “hired” himself to be its well compensated executive director. We will withhold comments and leave this one to the attorneys for now.
Convo #2: A founder is thrilled with the commitment of his children and grandchildren to the foundation he created and, to his immense credit, wants to make sure that this commitment can be honored, the impact of the foundation maximized, and the foundation is structured to adapt over time to new and changing conditions. I have had only one brief conversation with this gentleman, but if further discussions show that the remainder of the family tells the same story [to be sure, not always a slam-dunk!], we should explore the newest cloning techniques!
August 30th, 2012
Preparing for a series of international presentations, I recently updated [and de-Americanized] a number of my most popular case studies. To my mind, there is no doubt that the process of philanthropy decision-making is cross-cultural and generic, but the context for making those decisions is heavily influenced by local laws and regional culture. A challenge for those of us who work and speak internationally is to help our clients and audiences understand which is which.
But what struck me in taking this fresh look at these well-worn and proven cases was how frequently I used family examples to illustrate the points to be made. Why?
Of course, the most obvious answer is the numbers. Of the approx 80,000 private foundations in the USA, the overwhelming number are fully run and governed by family members. If one wishes to find the most generic examples, “family funders” is the place to start. Independent and corporate private foundations play a very important role, but are a small fraction of the total cohort.
It is hardly surprising that smaller to midsize family foundations would full reflect the name, personality, and priorities of the founding family. Yet, in recent months I have had occasion to teach and advise a number of very large and well-known foundations. These are foundations with large numbers of professional staff, most of whom have a highly specialized expertise. They were hired to bring a level of knowledge to the grantmaking process which the families didn’t have. Interestingly, in virtually every case, no matter the size, it didn’t take long for the name, personality, and priorities of the family funders to enter the discussion at these places as well.
All of this underscores the centrality of family philanthropy in setting the style, agenda, and landscape of the private philanthropy world. It doesn’t matter whether the vehicle is a checkbook, a donor advised fund, or a private foundation. Indeed, often there is simply a technical line between a family funder and a foundation which bears his/her name. In other cases, the family foundation may be professionally run, in a second, third, or fourth generation and have outside-non family trustees. Sometimes, family giving is sophisticated and strategic; other times, it is idiosyncratic and socially driven. In every case, it matters.
It matters because family philanthropy fosters a family’s expression of altruism and socially responsible behavior. It is often a way in which core values are transmitted from generation to generation. Writ large, it is the way in which society manifests its commitment to cultural values, compassion, and identity. And, because thoughtful philanthropy alerts a giver to the larger environment of social need, interest, and solutions, family philanthropy is a frequent influence on public policy.
Long time readers may recall that several years ago I was invited to conduct a workshop on inter-generational philanthropy for 100 leading philanthropists from around the world. No one from the USA [except me] was invited, and I was explicitly told to avoid American examples. the moderator of the day was a prominent philanthropist from South Africa. At the end of the day, in his concluding remarks, he expressed his surprise at the generic nature of the issues. “What this fellow [referring to me] talked about was exactly what is happening in my family!” I suspect he found it liberating to know that his was not unique.
Similarly, when I speak at conferences for family funders or work directly with family foundations, I try hard to help them see that, in most cases, what they may have perceived as unique family personality constructs, or inter-generational obstructions are more typically generic issues which most families face. [True, some do it better than others, and sometimes there really are challenging family issues – but in most cases, families are dealing with very representative issues.] Here too I have found that discovering this is liberating for most families: it de-personalizes differing opinions of style and priority, and can provide an openness to learn from each other and other families how matters which may seem stubbornly intractable can be resolved.
From a macro perspective, family philanthropists are the freest to take risks, to experiment, to think and act outside the box. Our field not only needs to honor and defend that kind of freedom, it requires it. This historic vision of the risk capital role of private philanthropy still applies. Today that manifests itself in funding innovation, start-ups, politically sensitive initiatives, as well as more traditional new projects of established organizations. Family funders may be willing to explore new kinds of philanthropic investments, program and socially responsible investments, hybrid funding models even while they are in their infancy. [Frankly, most of us know that not all of these ideas will succeed, but none of us really knows which ones might.]
Those of us who teach and advise funders have an important role in helping families learn how to do what they want to do better, more effectively, and in a more satisfying way. But we also have to be careful not to, en passant, straitjacket those very foundations and funders from testing limits and reaching beyond their grasp. All of us, in the families, in our field, and in our communities, all of us need to have a commitment to do no less. It matters.
March 11th, 2012
Rahim Kanani, Contributor
3/09/2012 @ 4:03PM
Philanthropy Expert Richard Marker on What Every Donor Needs to Know
In a recent interview with Richard Marker of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education, we discussed lessons that every funder must internalize, challenges and opportunities facing today’s donor community, and much more.
Richard Marker is co-principal of Wise Philanthropy™, a firm that includes: Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy Advisors, The Wise Philanthropy Institute, and Green Strides Consulting.
Richard Marker, an internationally known expert on philanthropy is the Founder of NYU’s Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education. The Academy is the oldest and most comprehensive university program teaching funders and philanthropists in the United States. In February 2007, he was recognized with the NYU Excellence in Teaching Award.
February 19th, 2012
It happened again.
On the flight back from last week’s Council on Foundations Family Foundations conference in Miami Beach, I found myself sitting next to a financially successful real estate person. When he found out what I do, he lost no time in indulging 2 predictable topics familiar to those of us on the giving side of the philanthropy table: first, and not the topic for this posting, he solicited me for a pet charity. At least twice.
Second, he expressed his cynicism that people really ever give for altruistic reasons. He told me the story of a recent solicitation for a well known public charity which totally turned him off. [Admittedly, there was a generational disconnect which explained the story but that was more evident to me than to him, and also not the subject of this post] He then launched into a challenge about why, really, do people give to charity. Ego, taxes, public recognition were high on his list; doing good was pretty low.
What I find is that those who ask that question are rarely active or generous funders themselves. They, at least many, indulge that line of reasoning, i suspect, to create a self justifying smokescreen for their own reluctance to give. Or they are finance related folks who measure success by the bottom line of what one has, not by what one gives.
February 11th, 2012
Welcome to our newly revised website. You will notice that our blog is now fully integrated into the site along with other useful information, making it possible for our readers and clients to see our ideas and our services at a glance. We will also be posting periodic video clips on topics of interest. We will look forward to your responses and thoughts, and thank you for all of the wonderful feedback we have received over the last 10 years.
August 24th, 2011
Not since 2008 have we heard this question so often. Sometimes it is asked out of simple curiosity, sometimes out of presumed sympathy for what some assume must be a difficult time, and sometimes it is asked as a way to anticipate what the funder community might be thinking. Is our business, the business of advising foundations, funders, and families on their philanthropy strategies, impacted at this time?
The short answer is no. But since the question is asked so frequently, it clearly deserves a longer answer.
December 22nd, 2010
Reminder to all of those who follow the blog to pass the word: there are still spaces for this January’s edition of the mini-intensive for new funders at NYU’s Academy for Funder Education, Jan 10-14 in NYC. Considered the premier university based program teaching philanthropists and foundation professionals, this January will mark the 8th edition. Typically this week long seminar attracts people from throughout the USA and elsewhere in the world.
Originally conceived in consultation with the Council on Foundations, the ASF, the NCFP, and the regional associations, the course has consistently drawn rave evaluations. It utilizes a variety of teaching methods, including case studies, and provides hands-on problem solving in an intimate and confidential setting. While it is open to all, and over the years has attracted numerous very seasoned funders, it is primarily targeted to those in their first 3 years as funders.
Please be in touch with any questions or feel free to register at scps.nyu.edu/phil.
NOTE: that the 9th edition will be held in July 2011.
May 31st, 2010
Sometimes even the philanthropy professor is in a quandary. By coincidence, I recently received 2 almost identical inquiries – about the propriety of one funder sitting on the board of another foundation.
Most of us have an understanding of and even policies about the potential conflicts of interest when a funder sits on the board of a potential recipient organization or if a leader of a potential recipient organization sits on the board of a foundation. While the field is far from unanimous about these questions, there are some useful parameters to frame foundation policies. [I deal with this question in some depth in my NYU courses, and if there is interest, I would be happy to share some thoughts on this question in a future posting.]
However, the question at hand is if there is any conflict of interest issue if a board member or staff of one foundation sits on the board of another foundation. I am aware of a few examples of this, but it is far from the norm. And I have never seen any conflict of interest policy which addresses this question [although, of course, there may be some.] Read more