By Page Snow, Foundation Source
Exponent Philanthropy is pleased to feature the next post in a multipart series from our colleagues at Foundation Source, a leading provider of comprehensive support services for private foundations. Foundation Source shares our commitment to helping donors maximize their dollars and time. Read the previous post in the series
One of the most compelling motivations for establishing private foundations is the potential to unite families, providing numerous opportunities to discuss shared values and collaborate on giving back. In fact, in a survey of Foundation Source clients, 82% of respondents told us that engaging their families in their foundations was just as important as having philanthropic impact.
At this time of year, we envision our offspring happily tucking into the foundation’s agenda with the same enthusiasm as the holiday meal. Unfortunately, getting everyone involved is not always as easy as pumpkin pie.
Here are a few tips to help you overcome the challenges of making your foundation a family affair.
Solution: Find an issue that speaks to your kids
Whether it’s involving your elephant-obsessed son in a conservation project, or working on an issue that affects his peers, one of the surest ways to engage young people is to work on an issue they relate to emotionally. One of our clients invited his grandkids to sit on a junior foundation board and, as part of their responsibilities, took them on a site visit to a children’s crisis center. The executive director recounted tale after tale about kids coming in with cigarette burns or being locked in a closet for the weekend. He said, “My grandkids were horrified! They insisted that the foundation do something to help those children. They’ve been passionate advocates for children’s rights ever since.”
Challenge: Lack of ownership
Solution: Provide discretionary funding
The foundation might seem like it “belongs” to the adults, so offering discretionary funds can give younger people a sense of ownership. Foundation Source clients have access to online “grant certificates” that enable them to extend limited granting rights to individuals who do not have official granting authority. Recipients are often invited to board meetings to report on the charitable gifts they’ve made. You can fashion your own version of these grant certificates to give younger children their first experience of grantmaking, and provide a way for older children and teens to discover their philanthropic interests.
Challenge: Lack of interest in the foundation’s mission
Solution: Involve them in impact investing
Young people may be more interested in the investment side of the foundation than its grantmaking. If your offspring are more attracted to the financial world, put their talents to work! Charge your budding capitalists to research investment opportunities that help build the foundation’s assets while advancing its mission.
Solution: Make participation an honor
Instead of making foundation membership an automatic entitlement, it should be framed as a great privilege, authority for which is carefully meted out as it is earned. As your daughter’s capacity and enthusiasm grows, she might be appointed to your foundation’s junior board, where she will have some limited authority. And, when she is ready to become a bona fide board member, consider marking the occasion as a significant achievement.
In the end, while the promise of family engagement is a key characteristic that sets private foundations apart from other charitable giving vehicles, a gratifying family experience isn’t guaranteed. You still have to work at it. But the rewards of success are immeasurable.
For more ideas about how to involve your family in your foundation, download our booklet Engaging the Family.
Page Snow is Chief Philanthropic and Marketing Officer at Foundation Source, where she directs and manages the philanthropic education, content, and advisory services as well as the company’s marketing strategy and brand development. Prior to joining Foundation Source, Ms. Snow spent 10 years with The Pew Charitable Trusts as Chief Officer of Institutional Planning, where she was instrumental in developing the strategy driving the foundation’s commitment to results-based philanthropy. Subsequently, she worked with senior management at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the creation of their evaluation department. Frequently quoted in both the popular and philanthropic press, Ms. Snow has expertise in strategic planning, program design, and evaluation of multimillion dollar grant investments. Follow Page on Twitter at @Page_FndSrc and Foundation Source @FoundationSrc.