Bringing the philanthropic goals of the past and present generations together
Many Whittier Trust clients have a family foundation that has been in existence for multiple generations. The foundation may have been set up by great-great-great grandparents who determined its mission and values. Fast forward three or four generations and a lot has changed. The Whittier Philanthropy team’s goal is to provide continuity for the original mission and values while engaging the current generation in the family’s overall giving legacy. The following are a few ways to accomplish this.
Facilitating Clear Communication
It’s not unusual for multigenerational families to encounter differences of opinion on philanthropic choices for their family foundation. Unfortunately, a conversation between generations with differing viewpoints may turn argumentative on its own. This is where Whittier brings value as an outside, neutral party.
“We often work with all family members on the common goal of making sure all voices are heard and valued and at the same time perpetuating the mission of the foundation,” says Haley Kirk, CAP®, vice president and client advisor for Whittier Trust’s Philanthropic Services, who explains that her team always starts with educating the whole family on the history of the foundation and its mission.
“We can have one-on-one conversations with each family member so that everyone feels that they are given the opportunity to speak freely,” she adds. “We listen to individual opinions and then work them into conversations with other family members.”
In addition to conversations, the Whittier Trust Philanthropic Services team recommends establishing a family website as a good practice for clear communication. The site can feature the history of the family, how they came into wealth, the mission of the foundation and the causes it is supporting.
Engaging and Aligning Interests with Causes
Parents might be uncertain how to pass their philanthropic interests on to their children and how they can support their kids in finding their own charitable passions that still align with their own. “Because the majority of foundations have the goal of lasting in perpetuity, it is imperative that we involve and prepare the next generation,” Kirk says.
While philanthropic goals may vary from person to person, Whittier works with parents and their adult or adolescent children to find the common root. For instance, one current hot topic is climate change and a hypothetical example is a family where the parents don’t believe in climate change yet their children feel passionately about helping the environment. “Perhaps because of weather changes, animals are suffering and the family can all agree to help animals, so the grant could be to combat that issue and not specifically focused on climate change,” Kirk says.
Developing a Foundation Associate Board
The development of an associate board when family members reach a designated age is a great way to involve the younger generation in a family foundation. The Whittier team encourages boards to create younger advisory boards that are allotted a small amount of money to give away as a group. “It is an opportunity for them to pick a cause they care about and present it to their family, and gain life skills like public speaking and presenting, research and fact-gathering, and financial evaluation, in addition to supporting something they are passionate about,” says Kirk.
Preparing to Hand Over the Baton
At some point, it’s time to get adult kids more involved to ensure the continuation of the foundation. This was the case for a Whittier client where the older generation (mom and dad) were running the foundation without their four grown children’s involvement. A strong-willed person, the mother didn’t have faith in the kids to follow what she wanted to do with the foundation.
“We encouraged the parents to invite their kids to start listening in on board conversations,” Kirk says. Before the first board meeting, however, the parents had a scheduling conflict. “Instead of rescheduling the meeting, we suggested that it move forward and see how the kids would do on their own.”
The result was that the younger generation were very focused on choosing grantees that fit within the foundation’s mission. “It was pretty special. Seeing that the kids hadn’t spun out in an entirely new direction inspired trust; the parents were able to feel more relaxed about the idea of sharing control with them and one day turning over the reins completely.”
Sometimes all it takes for families struggling to bring the philanthropic goals of the past and present generations together is some outside guidance and support to get started on the right foot.