Cre­ate a “safe zone” for ef­fec­tive fam­ily phi­lan­thropy

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS -

Phil­an­thropic strate­gists of­ten work closely with fam­i­lies to help them es­tab­lish, re­fine or re­fo­cus muti­gen­er­a­tional fam­ily foun­da­tions and donor-ad­vised funds. Some of these fam­i­lies en­joy long his­to­ries of open com­mu­ni­ca­tion across the gen­er­a­tions — about money, val­ues and char­ity. Many oth­ers, how­ever, find these top­ics ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to broach.

Multi­gen­er­a­tional fam­ily phi­lan­thropy cre­ates a unique op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery fam­ily to set a new ta­ble so that all adult and young adult fam­ily mem­bers are in­vited to sit, share, de­velop and act upon com­mon val­ues and goals around money and phi­lan­thropy.

Most phil­an­thropic cap­i­tal is no longer owned by the fam­ily. In­stead, it has been ir­re­vo­ca­bly do­nated to a fam­ily foun­da­tion or donor-ad­vised fund and no longer ap­pears on the fam­ily’s bal­ance sheet. Al­ter­na­tively, this cap­i­tal has been ear­marked for char­ity and will soon be do­nated. Ei­ther way, phi­lan­throp­i­cally com­mit­ted cap­i­tal usu­ally sits apart from the rest of a fam­ily’s as­sets.

This sep­a­rate “pot” of money typ­i­cally rep­re­sents a rel­a­tively small per­cent­age of a fam­ily’s over­all wealth – money that can be de­ployed strate­gi­cally to cre- ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for heal­ing, growth and em­pow­er­ment.

Start with good ground rules

The first step to set­ting a new fam­ily ta­ble and cre­at­ing a “safe zone” is to jointly es­tab­lish new ground rules. Ask each other, “How would you like all fam­ily mem­bers to show up at the new phi­lan­thropy ta­ble?” This is of­ten the hard­est step for mem­bers of the wealth-cre­at­ing gen­er­a­tion, who are ac­cus­tomed to rul­ing the roost.

But let us be clear. Ris­ing-gen­er­a­tion mem­bers will ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in a muti­gen­er­a­tional fam­ily en­deavor like phi­lan­thropy only if they have mean­ing­ful, equiv­a­lent seats at the ta­ble.

Good ground rules em­anate nat­u­rally from fam­ily mem­bers. They are not im­posed by elders or out­side fa­cil­i­ta­tors. Here are some ex­am­ples of ground rules es­tab­lished by fam­i­lies with whom we’ve worked:

•All fam­ily mem­bers have an equal voice; all are en­cour­aged to ac­tively par­tic­i­pate.

•De­ci­sions won’t be made uni­lat­er­ally; col­lec­tive de­ci­sion­mak­ing is the ob­jec­tive.

•No “eye rolls” or “sighs” per­mit­ted; rather, show re­spect for all points of view.

•No in­ter­rupt­ing.

•Ac­cept con­flict and its res­o­lu­tion as a nec­es­sary cat­a­lyst for learn­ing and change.

•Take risks, be “raggedy;” it is OK to make mis­takes, learn and “fail for­ward.”

•Meet­ings will start and end as sched­uled; come pre­pared.

•Cell phones are not al­lowed (ex­cept for emer­gen­cies).

•Ex­press ap­pre­ci­a­tion for peo­ple’s ef­forts.

•Hold our­selves and other par­tic­i­pants ac­count­able to these ground rules. •Have fun!

Es­tab­lish a com­mon pur­pose

The next step is to de­ter­mine a com­mon pur­pose for the fam­ily‘s phil­an­thropic en­deavor. Ask each other, “What do you want to get out of this ex­pe­ri­ence?” Each fam­ily mem­ber may an­swer this ques­tion dif­fer­ently. Some an­swers we’ve seen are to:

•Learn more about ef­fec­tive, strate­gic phi­lan­thropy;

•Learn more about each other, es­pe­cially across the ris­ing gen­er­a­tions of ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­persed sib­lings and cousins, as well as their spouses;

•Es­tab­lish new ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing and sup­port­ing each other in the fam­ily;

•Help the fam­ily con­tinue to thrive across the gen­er­a­tions;

•“Pay it for­ward” out of grat­i­tude for the fam­ily’s good for­tune; and

•Make an im­pact in their com­mu­ni­ties, coun­try or world.

Cre­ate a fo­cused mis­sion state­ment

Cre­ation of a good mis­sion state­ment is the next step in set­ting up a “safe zone” for fam­ily phi­lan­thropy. For more in­for­ma­tion on this topic, see my April 9 col­umn, “Fo­cused mis­sion state­ments help donors de­cide where to di­rect their money.” Ask each other these ques­tions:

•What is our fo­cus?

•What do we want to pre­serve or change — specif­i­cally?

•Do we want to fo­cus on a ge­o­graphic area?

•Over what pe­riod of time will we give?

•Do we want to col­lab­o­rate with other fun­ders – or go it alone?

•How will we mea­sure suc­cess?

Fol­low­ing these three steps to cre­at­ing a “safe zone” makes it much more likely that the fam­ily’s phil­an­thropic ef­forts will suc­ceed. In ad­di­tion, it makes it more prob­a­ble that the fam­ily it­self will thrive — by learn­ing to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate, work to­gether and sup­port each other across gen­er­a­tions, dis­tances and time.

Bruce De­boskey, J.D., is a phil­an­thropic strate­gist work­ing across the U.S. with The De­boskey Group to help busi­nesses, foun­da­tions and fam­i­lies de­sign and im­ple­ment thought­ful phil­an­thropic strate­gies and ac­tion­able plans. He is a fre­quent key­note speaker at con­fer­ences and work­shops on phi­lan­thropy.

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