Philanthropy as Shared Family Experience

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Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.

Ann Garson

Families share time together in many ways. When the children are of school age, time is spent at meals, childrens’ activities, birthdays and the activity of simply living together. As children grow older, families come together for vacations, graduations, special anniversaries and other important life events.

However, the opportunities for sharing a meaningful project, working in a mutual endeavor or solving problems together diminish as families disperse geographically and logistics become more complicated.

Multi-generational philanthropy can be a shared family experience helping the family grow and learn together. Discussing where each family member gives their time, talent and treasure is an ongoing discussion which can lead to a greater understanding of each other.

Similarly, exchanging ideas about the change each person would like to see in the world, creates an atmosphere of mutual respect. Some families even create a statement of values and/or a mission statement that guides their philanthropy. Each generation learns from the other about their priorities and values.

Activities around philanthropy bring families together even if they live in different cities. Family members can research organizations, visit charities of interest, volunteer and report back to the rest of the family. After the gift, reviewing thank you letters and learning about the impact of their gifts can be a satisfying way for the family to share the good feelings that result from tzedakah.

Doing good comes in all sizes. The experience of working and learning together is transformative for the family even if the gifts themselves do not “move the needle” on a social issue. Some families may create a donor advised fund or supporting foundation. With these types of grant-making entities, a third party administers process, logistics and follow-up. This administrator can facilitate learning experiences for members of the family, such as conferences, presentations by grantees, readings and interactive exercises around philanthropy.

One of the benefits of family philanthropy is having a platform and venue for the sharing of family history, stories and values across generations. Young people learn about who they are from their parents and grandparents. Legacy is more than valuables, it is the sharing of values across generations. Explore questions such as, how has the tzedakah of the family changed over the generations and how does it reflect changing times?

How does the younger generation honor the past while still developing their own interests? How can the older generations be open to new ideas? Along the way, you can each learn how to talk about the motivations behind your tzedakah, setting the stage for generations to come.

Ann Garson is the assistant vice president of funds and foundations at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood.

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