Why We’re Sending 12 Members of Our Family Foundation to a Single Conference

By Erin Bird, Tracy Family Foundation

Diana Bittner was excited. She was inspired. She was ready to learn. As a trustee of the Tracy Family Foundation (TFF), Bittner was one of seven TFF members from across the United States who converged in Phoenix, Arizona, to attend the Exponent Philanthropy’s 2015 CONNECT Conference.

Bittner and her fellow TFF trustees spent three days discovering innovative new ideas, networking with other foundations and their attendees, and building a more close-knit group within the foundation.

“It was very inspiring to meet so many individuals from different types of foundations who were all so passionate about what they do,” said Bittner, a third-generation (3G) Tracy family member. “But at the end of the day, it was a true bonding experience for all of us in TFF. We were all invested in being there and excited to share our experiences from the day with the others from our group.”

Four generations of Tracy Family Foundation

4 Generations, 100 Members Strong

TFF was founded in 1997 by the second generation Tracy family members (2Gs) to honor their philanthropic parents and give back to the community in which they grew up.

The organization’s mission is to “provide resources to organizations that foster the values of Robert and Dorothy Tracy—a Catholic/Christian belief, honesty, integrity, fairness, and a strong work ethic. The Foundation seeks to proactively strengthen Brown County in Illinois and the surrounding Region by investing in the education, youth, families, and the capacity of these communities. The Foundation is also the vehicle for developing a philanthropic spirit among Tracy family members.”

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Coming to the Work as Equals

By Paul Serini, The Helen J. Serini Foundation

When my wife and I set up our family foundation in 2012, we engaged my three children (then in their late teens and early 20s) in deciding whether a foundation was something we wanted to do as a family. We pressed the kids long and hard, even handed out questionnaires, wanting it to be a collective decision, a shared responsibility.

All three stepped to the plate. They made clear that they understood the responsibility and accepted the challenges. From there, we developed everything about the foundation in cooperation: the size and number of grants, voting rules, areas of focus. We designed our grantmaking approach to give back as much as possible, meaning we look for ways to partner beyond dollars. We think very carefully about strengthening the organizations we work with.

In time, say 10–15 years, I want to step back and have my children run the foundation. That means being conscious about ceding control and viewing all foundation members—regardless of age—as equals.

Sharing Control Peer to Peer

The biggest challenge we’ve encountered—and I have to believe this is the biggest challenge of any young organization—is sharing control as peers. On a small board composed of three kids, two parents, and a bunch of other 65-year-old adults, it’s something that requires a conscious effort in all interactions. But it’s worth it.

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Mentoring Young Adults in the Youth Philanthropy Movement

By Sammie Holzwarth, Foundant Technologies

At Foundant Technologies—provider of online grants management solutions for grantmakers and grantseekers—we have always been supporters of the youth philanthropy movement. We began as early sponsors and supporters of Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC), a youth-led peer advisory network for young people involved in philanthropy. We attended their conferences and even joined them during their on-the-road events in 2015.

Mark Larimer, our VP of Marketing and Client Success, and I were amazed time and time again at how thoughtful and professional the participating youth, ages 8–21, were at making real granting decisions.

It was on the road in 2015 that Mark and I discussed starting a youth philanthropy project in our hometown of Bozeman, MT. Right away I was excited to be involved and work hands-on with the young adults in our community, helping them learn about our community’s needs and the grantmaking process.

Now, in my second year of our Youth Giving Project, I have some tips for those of you who, like me, may have limited experience mentoring youth. Heck, most days I feel like I’m their age myself! These may seem like simple tips—because they are. A youth philanthropy project should be the product of the participants, not the adults advising them.

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Next Gen Voices  

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

Over the years, participants in our Next Gen Fellows Program have contributed significantly to their home philanthropies’ work through strategic, programmatic, technological, and communications efforts.

Many fellows go beyond that by contributing expertise, ideas, and observations to Exponent Philanthropy’s community and to the field at large. Next gen leaders have written and been featured in multiple media since we launched our Next Gen Fellows Program in 2013, including over a dozen posts on this blog alone.

We want to share just some of pieces written by our fellows over the years that we feel are just as valuable today as when they were published.

Learn about the 2017 Next Gen Fellows Program and apply by April 10 >>

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How to Spot a Next Gen Fellow

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

How do you know if Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program is right for you or someone at your foundation?

As we note in the program details, the 6-month training fellowship is designed for “dynamic leaders roughly 18–35 years old who are involved in all types of foundations as current or soon-to-be trustees or staff.”

Given that many applications and even more queries are rolling in as the April 10 application deadline approaches, I thought it may be helpful to go deeper in describing characteristics that make for a good match between the program and a prospective applicant. This might be especially helpful for foundations that have several 18- to 35-year-olds who might be interested.

Although the characteristics below are not comprehensive, and not every applicant will share all of them, we are looking to build a group of participants who demonstrate a good balance of these. We hope this will help you make decisions about applying and, if ready, meet the April 10 application deadline.

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Bringing Youth Philanthropy Home

By Mark Larimer, Foundant Technologies

In the fall of 2015, after three years sponsoring Youth Philanthropy Connect (YPC) during events across the country, Foundant brought the youth philanthropy movement home to Bozeman, Montana. A partnership with our local Bozeman Area Community Foundation (BACF) and Bozeman Youth Initiative (BYI) allowed us to offer a grantmaking program to local youth ages 13–18, the Youth Giving Project. Foundant supported the program financially, BACF offered expertise and community connections, and BYI added youth development experience to the mix.

Part of our goal in starting the Youth Giving Project was to use the knowledge we’d gained from our work with YPC to jump-start our own project, while also keeping our eyes on lessons we learned along the way that we could then share with others.

Ask your community

Asking questions is the first, and probably most important, step we took in creating our program. Asking questions offers not only the opportunity to establish need but also opens doors you might not have known were there. Talking with constituents of your program and your potential grants can shed light on needs, confirm (or, in some cases, debunk) your assumptions of what the community will support, and ultimately save you time on adjustments or corrections later on. This initial outreach is also your first step in creating partnerships that can help with your ongoing effort and offer the expertise you might need as you move forward.

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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.

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Youth Giving: A hub to inform and inspire youth grantmaking

By Lauren Hasey Maher, independent philanthropy consultant

After working in philanthropy for over a decade I have witnessed the never-ending cycle of frustration and elation as we work together to tackle society’s seemingly intractable issues. It can be hard to not get jaded as cycles often repeat themselves. As a new mother I feel everything more intensely, and it is hard to not be overwhelmed by tragic events and the daily barrage of bad news. Thankfully, my job lets me see the fruits of the labor of many generations of families and individuals working together to impact their communities in a positive way.

It has been my sincere privilege to interview young givers around the world for Foundation Center’s new Youth Giving hub. This website is designed to piece together the story of youth giving programs (more than 800 worldwide!) and the funders who support them by curating case studies, grants data, program information, expert perspectives, news stories, and more. For the purposes of this website, youth giving usually refers to giving by those ages 8-30. It is impossible not to be inspired by their solution-oriented problem-solving within their communities.


Although each youth grantmaking story is unique, there are also common themes.

Young givers are great listeners. They tend to ask those affected about helpful and valuable solutions. The YouthBank in Samsun, Turkey is a small group of youth, sponsored by a community foundation, who make grants to their peers and mentor them through their project to improve the local community. Before choosing a funding focus they conduct an annual one-on-one needs assessment asking their peers three questions: What do you want to see change? What is missing for young people? What is necessary for youth in Samsun?

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Youth Philanthropy: Collaborative From the Start

By Nathaniel James, Exponent Philanthropy

Originally featured on GMNsight, a professional journal written for and by the members of Grants Managers Network

In philanthropy, it seems everyone is talking about collaboration. The more we aspire to work together, the more we find that effective collaborations require patience, practice, and sometimes teach hard lessons. Earlier this year, Michael Moody wrote that aspiring collaborative donors “face distinct challenges related to their own capacity and power [and] their tolerance for risk and transparency.”

So, whereas we understand the rewards of collaboration to be high, collaboration is still hard. But what if this is just a phase for philanthropy?

This summer, I participated in the international Youth Philanthropy Connect Conference, aptly titled “Building Tomorrow, Together: The Future of Philanthropy,” and I observed an ease of relationship-building that could one day transform our field. There I saw the future of philanthropy, those in the 8- to 21-year-old set for whom collaboration is a central part of who they are and how their first experiences unfold.

Over five years, the conference has grown to 58 participating organizations and 180 participants. During the launch presentation on the new YouthGiving.org site, we learned that the global youth philanthropy field has distributed over $15 million in grants since 2001, making it a distinct new entrant into the larger nonprofit sector and one whose influence is just starting to be felt.

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The Young Hearts of Louisiana

By Scott Brazda, The Stuller Family Foundation



In the face of tragedy, there has also been pure, philanthropic magic.

On August 12, the deluge began here in south Louisiana, and during the days that followed, there have been numbers that simply want to make you cry: 40,000 homes damaged. 20,000 people rescued. 6.9 trillion (no typo) gallons of rainfall. 13 deaths. $40 million in damages (and counting). From Lafayette to Baton Rouge, lives have been uprooted, treasured memories lost, and faith shaken to its very core.

Our United Ways, the American Red Cross, and other organizations were quickly mobilized, and immediate aid was sent to many in need. My TV station, KATC, teamed with four United Way chapters for ‘The Spirit of Acadiana Flood Relief Telethon’ and raised nearly $150,000 in only three hours, all because of the generous spirit of wonderful people, many of whom had already seen their ‘pre-flooding’ lives derailed by the downturn in the oil industry. People have given and given and given again, with money, food, shelter, labor, connections, and prayers.

It’s like, you know you love your community and its people, but you never really appreciate it until you see their hearts in action. And the people of south Louisiana have huge, caring hearts.

What has dazzled me even more is the volunteerism being exhibited by our young people.

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