Fostering Family Philanthropy One Conversation at a Time

Jo Ensor
Director, London
The Philanthropy Workshop

Why do some family foundations flourish? How do we inspire and support a culture of philanthropy within our own family foundations?

Twenty-five members of The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW) gathered at Somerset House in London recently for an evening of debate and discussion around family philanthropy. The discussion was led by TPW members Will Perrin, Lynne and Peter Smitham, and Clare Mathias with her daughter Sassy. Members shared how they have been involved in philanthropy through their parents or spouse and how they are involving and planning to involve their children.

Questions arising included:

Involvement of the next generation:

  • At what age should children be involved in family philanthropy and how can you best engage them?
  • Should children be trustees and have equal voting rights, and how does this change over time? Is it ever really equal?
  • What is the best way to organise the family to achieve successful philanthropy?
  • What are the pros and cons of having one united family foundation vs. each generation having a new autonomous organisation or fund?
  • What are the challenges of getting the next generation to run a foundation whose mission may not be aligned to their values or interests?
  • What best motivates next generation? Is it an emotional connection? An intellectual involvement? A shared family activity, a duty or a burden?

Good Governance?

  • How good is your governance? Is the family foundation a vehicle for giving strategically or just a way to have fun as a family?
  • How does a chair balance the role of chair with being a parent/child?
  • How do you get a foundation to adapt to an updated context/society?
  • Should all family members be on the Board? Spouses?
  • Is it beneficial to invite outsiders onto the board? What about advisors?
  • How is the role of chair decided? What about succession planning?
  • Is the next generation the best option for succession?
  • Should families adopt a spend-down or in perpetuity approach?
  • How do families ensure philanthropy is really having an impact?
  • How to resolve conflict?

Occasionally controversial and always thought-provoking, it was a very lively and participative discussion on what works well and what works less well within intergenerational family philanthropy, including how best to upwards manage, sideways manage, and when and how to engage the next generation.

Following on from this event, TPW members have asked for a group of chairs of family foundations to be convened to continue the discussion on intergenerational philanthropy. The first meeting will be arranged in the autumn and any TPW member who chairs, or will chair their family foundation, is welcome to attend.  

For those interested in the content of the discussion, TPW's Theory of Foundations event scheduled to take place in November 2015 in London may also be of interest. The Philanthropy Workshop is hosting a workshop to examine the theory of foundations, exploring recent research conducted by Rockefeller Philanthropy Partners into the differing governance and management structures of family various foundations. It promises to be a valuable discussion for anyone thinking about management and governance within their own foundation. 

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