July 9, 2012

Giving With Your Family: Four Ways to Achieve High-Impact Philanthropy

Alison Powell is Bridgespan’s Philanthropy Knowledge Manager. Follow her on Twitter @abp615.

By: Alison Powell
Just as each philanthropist is unique, so too is each family. We all have our special traditions and our grumbled-about frustrations. We all have fun-filled memories and others we would like to forget. Because philanthropy is personal, and there’s nothing more personal than family, it’s natural that many donors seek to involve their families in their giving. While in a perfect world, philanthropy would promote both family togetherness and social good in equal measure, the reality is that sometimes family harmony is, in fact, at odds with fulfilling your own philanthropic ambitions.

For example, what if you and your spouse have a hard time agreeing on focus areas for your philanthropy? Or what if you would prefer to have the final say on philanthropic decisions, but are struggling with how to tell your children of this caveat?

Our guide to giving with your family“How Do I Work With My Family to Achieve High-Impact Philanthropy?”—aims to support you as you sort through these challenging issues. It would be naive to assume that one set process will work for every situation. Our guide helps your chances for philanthropic success by offering four overarching principles on how to think about family philanthropy. These principles can help you avoid the pitfalls many donors have experienced, like alienating family members or giving them jobs they just aren’t suited for.

The first principle when approaching the concept of giving with your family is to identify your primary objective. Is it to serve the family by creating a forum to get together and share your public service? Or is it to serve society? We certainly aren’t saying that you can’t do both, but without having your priorities straight, it will be hard to make decisions. (For example, should you give another big donation to the great nonprofit that is effectively working in the field you are passionate about, or should you allow your children to split that money up to different causes they care about?)

Read here for the other three principles, along with references to some great resources from organizations like the National Center for Family Philanthropy, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and The Philanthropic Initiative.

We’re curious to hear your thoughts: What challenges have you faced when giving as a family? Do you have any advice to add to our guide?

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