Three Steps Toward Successful Family Philanthropy

Tags: Federation, Philanthropy, Endowment

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by Ann Garson, assistant vice president, family philanthropy and foundations, Jewish Federation of Cleveland

Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News


Being a part of a multi-generational family endeavor can be challenging. Whether it is a family vacation, family business or just navigating the kitchen while making dinner, issues arise about priorities, process and outcomes. Different styles, perspectives, family dynamics and preconceived assumptions all come into play. And so it goes when a family comes together to decide how to give away charitable dollars.

Three steps form a stable foundation for a family philanthropic venture.

• Honoring each other is a prerequisite. Each person, no matter how young, needs to feel heard and safe enough to be vulnerable and share their feelings. There are many ways to set this tone of respect and honest communication. First, and foremost, it must be modeled by the most senior members of the family and laid down explicitly as an expectation for all. A third-party facilitator can help with setting some structure and maintaining the generosity of spirit necessary for success.

• Articulating common values is an exercise of bringing forth those unspoken fundamental principles shared within a family. Sometimes it is based on those who came before – the legacy of struggling as an immigrant, passing on Jewish traditions or the value of hard work, education and helping others. Here is an opportunity to share family stories, learn what the younger generation has been absorbing, and to hear whether and how they have integrated those values into their own identity. The facilitator’s role here is to provide structure to the conversation and to ensure that everyone is heard.

• Agreeing on specific goals is important to provide focus and success. These include long-term goals of ensuring that everyone feels valued and an important part of the process, resulting in deeper understanding of each other and stronger relationships. Short-term goals might be giving a certain amount of money this year in particular interest areas that are acceptable to all. The facilitator can remind the group that not everyone needs to have everything go “their way” for the first round of decision making to be successful. Here is where the family actually begins to work together, listen, and compromise. The facilitator can re-mind family members of their common ground, point out patterns others may not see and suggest compromises where no one “loses.”

Families are strengthened by their successful collective endeavors, and it is well worth the effort. Whether it is a vacation enjoyed by all, a successful business, a wonderful meal – or meaningful philanthropy achieved through a process of mutual respect, shared values and common goals, they are better for the process and so is their community.

For more information on Family Philanthropy and Foundations, contact Ann Garson at agarson@jewishcleveland.org or 216-593-2814.

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