Making Philanthropy a Family Affair

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Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

Rachel Lappen | SPECIAL TO THE CJN

When you hear the word “philanthropist,” your mind may go directly to some of the most recognizable names in philanthropy like Bill and Melinda Gates, and others whose gifts make national and international headlines.

Those well-known philanthropists are wonderful and inspiring; however, the actual definition of philanthropist, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is much broader: “a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” Under this definition, a person of any age and any means can be a philanthropist.

Anyone who wants to improve the lives of others through charitable contributions, from children giving tzedakah, to bar or bat mitzvah students doing mitzvah projects, to adults giving annual donations to their favorite nonprofit organizations. They are all philanthropists, and philanthropy can be a deeply meaningful experience for families to undertake together.

So, how does one make philanthropy a family affair? Understanding the values of our parents and grandparents can illuminate and inform family history while creating enduring family connections.

Make sure your children and grandchildren know what is important to you. Do they know why you have chosen certain causes and organizations to support? Having that conversation helps them see the impact of your tzedakah and understand what your values are and why.

Ask your children and grandchildren what is important to them. How do they want to make the world a better place? What concerns do they have about the community, and where do they want to make a difference? What aspects of your own philanthropy do you hope they carry with them throughout their lives? Having conversations about philanthropy provides family members with opportunities to learn about their own interests, passions, and skills within the greater family frame-work.

There are many ways to easily engage in family philanthropy. One is to open a family donor advised fund, enabling you to have family conversations as you decide on grant recommendations. For some families, establishing a supporting foundation can be a meaningful way of creating a shared vision driven by a family mission statement that guides the conversations and decisions around philanthropy.

I am always amazed at how much I have learned from families around these areas. It is very moving to witness the joy of giving shared across multiple generations that make decisions together. So, I encourage each of you to make philanthropy a family affair and enjoy the warmth that you experience through doing good for others while strengthening the bond of your own family.

Rachel Lappen is the chief development officer at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood.

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