Over the last decade of working with multi-generational families, helping them to become more effective with their philanthropy, I have learned many lessons. The field of strategic philanthropy is more sophisticated and complex than ever and the understanding of philanthropic “best practices” has evolved.
Some of the challenges we face in today’s world may seem intractable; however the opportunities for family philanthropy to make a difference are better defined.
And, although philanthropy is highly individualized, there are some broadly applicable lessons. Here are eight that have risen to the top:
—Create a “safe zone” for philanthropy.
Start by creating a new “table” for the discussion of family philanthropy and invite all young adult and adult family members to sit there as equals. Establish ground rules for participation that support a “safe zone” for effective communication: this can often lead to more engagement, enhanced family dynamics and greater impact. Different generations of family members often look through very different lenses — derived from varied life experiences, values and goals - that can help weave a rich tapestry for family giving.
—Look through two lenses.
Families starting their philanthropic journey together have two important initial questions to answer: The first, focused externally, asks “What difference do we want to make in in our community or beyond?” The second, looking internally, asks, “What difference do we want to make for ourselves?” Answering both of these questions helps families become more effective in working together and crafting an equally valued mission statement that directs their giving to achieve certain kinds of impact.
—Focus your giving.
Develop a mission statement to use as a road map, focusing giving on a few carefully selected causes. Learn to say no to causes that fall outside of your mission statement and avoid the “peanut butter” approach to giving that spreads your resources too thinly over a broad area.
—Support smaller, local nonprofits.