5 Challenges to Teamwork in Family Giving

By Dawn Franks, Your Philanthropy 

Based on “5 Keys to Build Teamwork in Family Giving,” originally posted on Your Philanthropy’s YP Journal on March 23, 2016. 

“Coming together is a beginning,” said Henry Ford. “Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” I know Henry was referring to building cars, but that quote also holds the keys to a sustainable blend of family and philanthropy. Success depends on teamwork in family giving.

Over the past 10 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with more than 25 families involved with different styles of family giving—from the family pocket, from a donor advised fund, and from private family foundations. Each family brings all their personality, operating style, and history with them to each gathering of the family, and that includes when philanthropy is the subject.

Yet families don’t often see themselves functioning as a team. Differences and dysfunctions can be a hindrance to team building. Patrick Lencioni wrote a book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team in which he describes the interpersonal aspects of team building. Each dysfunction is highly applicable to families involved in philanthropy.

Absence of Trust

If it seems unlikely that a family would lack trust, remember that no one knows us like our family. They know the best and the worst of us. Family knows our natural talents and every wart. So it isn’t surprising that, as Lencioni describes it, we might be unwilling to be vulnerable. Yet, as I have sat with families while they do the work of giving together, it’s when they value one another’s differences that they excel. Trust comes from knowing we can work toward a common good even with all the warts in the room.

Fear of Conflict

Some families go to great lengths to avoid conflict; others dive in as if it’s a Sunday afternoon football game. The healthiest families use conflict to debate and discuss, learning from one another. Avoiding the conflict over time may actually build walls increasingly difficult to climb over. Resolving conflict is a learned behavior. Allowing the conflict while working at giving together builds bridges useful for all kinds of family communication.

Lack of Commitment

Families that give together experience commitment in varying degrees. I’ve seen many levels of commitment; like Gorilla Glue vs. Elmer’s Glue, the strength may vary. But every time the family works together, the chances are they increase their commitment. Practice matters.

Avoidance of Accountability

Committed families that engage in healthy conflict and trust one another experience enhanced accountability. Holding one another accountable is far easier in the midst of family where everyone is safe to grow and learn together. Accountability is a two-way road between every family member. Each brings their own areas of interest to the family and trust that others will hold them accountable to bring the best information to the giving process. Poor behavior and performance will not be acceptable since it affects how the family does its giving work.

Inattention to Results

It would be easy to simply measure the results of family giving as the success of the funded nonprofit. Equally important is the success of the family. Families that learn to give together are more likely to stay together, increasing the chance that giving as a family becomes an inherited family trait from one generation to the next.

When a family chooses to give together, they begin the work of becoming a team. Teamwork isn’t easy. Some days one or more dysfunctions shows up. Sometimes even a small amount of coaching can help a family work on the team.

To learn more, visit Exponent Philanthropy’s resources on family philanthropy.

Related posts
The Foundation as “Team Family”
Are You Creating Space for Young Leaders to Lead?
Hypothesis: Shorter Board Terms Can Increase Family Engagement

Dawn Franks is president of Your Philanthropy, an independent philanthropy advisory firm, and executive director of the Exponent Philanthropy member Ben and Maytee Fisch Foundation.

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