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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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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More Ways to Create Space for Your Next Generation

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

Last year, for organizations positioned to engage young leaders and for young leaders themselves, a colleague and I shared ways to create a welcoming space for the next generation to learn and build confidence. See Are You Creating Space for Young Leaders to Lead? >>

Because the challenge of engaging the next generation—and getting engaged as a young leader—persists for many Exponent Philanthropy members, I offer here three additional ways to create space at the table for your next generation.

Cultivate an open and supportive culture

Culture matters, a lot. Take the article It’s Not Foundation Money but Culture and Talent That Can Change the World, referencing research by Community Wealth Partners, work by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and a study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy—all suggesting that culture is key inside and outside philanthropic organizations.

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[The Pulse] Hardship, Inequality, and Racial Divides Create a Reckoning for Philanthropy

By Andy Carroll, Exponent Philanthropy

The PulseIn our regular “Pulse” blog series, I explore trends influencing philanthropy by spotlighting articles, reports, and essays in the media. I cast a wide net, venturing beyond philanthropy and traditional topics to consider a variety of ideas, innovations, debates, and critiques. Read previous posts in the series  

The model that private foundations and donors have relied on for decades to make positive impact on the world is being questioned. Economic hardship, inequality, racial discrimination, lack of social mobility, and environmental degradation are only increasing in depth and scope. And there is growing recognition that human and environmental needs that go unmet today will incur greater costs in the future. 

The scope and urgency of the challenges is causing frustration, re-assessment, and soul-searching. More foundations and donors are asking themselves not only how they can alleviate problems, but how to solve them once and for all. Can funders reduce the need for philanthropy in the first place?

Many of the nation’s 1.5 million nonprofit organizations struggle constantly, lack internal capacity, and cannot sustain their critical work. Even if foundations and donors provided more funding for general operations and capacity building, can private philanthropy solve nonprofits’ financial struggles when national and state legislators continue to cut government funding—a much larger share of nonprofits’ income? Should funders be more concerned about the decline of public funding over the past decades, since the cuts undermine the effectiveness of their grantees? 

(Among current stress points are budget battles in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and other states, which delay funding to nonprofits that provide critical services. In Pennsylvania recently, more than 17,000 people received no or reduced services due to the budget impasse.)

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The “Next Gen” Is Not as “Other” as You May Think

By Kerry McHugh, The Helen J. Serini Foundation, and Katherine Palms, HP Family Foundation

Recognizing that the next generation is truly a diverse group—including many looking for ways to make change—is the first step toward bringing the next generation along for the wonderful, incredible, and challenging ride that we all know philanthropy can be.

(Whereas folks of all ages may consider themselves the “next generation,” in this post we’re referring primarily to millennials—those currently in their 20s and 30s.)

Kerry and peers at Exponent Philanthropy's Next Gen Fellows Program

Kerry and peers at Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program

We are both proud to be members of the next generation of our family foundations. As younger members of the philanthropic community, we are continually excited by the opportunity to talk with others about everything from grantmaking to collective impact. Perhaps what is most exciting to us, though, is the opportunity to speak with others about ways to more fully engage the next generation in philanthropy.

Most of the conversations we’ve had around this subject are marked by a sense of enthusiasm, excitement, and desire for growth. But that’s not to say we haven’t faced challenging questions as well, including these: 

Isn’t the next generation a selfish generation? How do we engage them? 

Katherine on a site visit as part of Exponent Philanthropy's Next Gen Fellows Program

Katherine on a site visit as part of Exponent Philanthropy’s Next Gen Fellows Program

If you believe that every member of a generation is selfish, it is easy enough to find abundant evidence to support that claim. But if you look for proof of the opposite, there’s plenty of evidence in that camp too. For example, according to a 2012 report by The American Dream Composite Index, individuals ages 24-35 are more likely to participate in crowdfunding efforts than older generations; an Associated Press-GfK poll found that individuals under age 30 are more likely to state that they have a “very important obligation” to volunteer than their older counterparts.

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Bringing the Next Generation on Board—at Its Own Pace

By Betsy Erickson, Arabella Advisors

It’s a lesson teachers and parents know well: No two people learn in exactly the same way or at exactly the same pace. And it’s a lesson worth bearing in mind for those seeking to create pathways for family members to engage in a shared philanthropic legacy. Arabella Advisors has worked with families for over 10 years, and we have learned that an important ingredient for success is to allow family members to decide for themselves when and how to engage in the family’s philanthropy.

We love telling the story of Bill Clarke, founder of the Osprey Foundation and our client for the past seven years, who has embraced a very flexible approach with his own foundation—one that has resulted in deep, personal, and satisfying engagement from each of his children and their spouses.

Bill established the Osprey Foundation 11 years ago to empower individuals and communities through education, health, economic opportunity, and human rights in a sustainable way. In the beginning, he didn’t know exactly where he wanted to invest his resources, much less how his three children, who were then in their early 20s, should be involved. “I wasn’t thinking about bringing them on the board right away, but I knew that we had all been involved in mission work, development, and foreign travel, and that they’d be interested in becoming more involved eventually.”

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Growing Into a Board Member Role

By Diana Tyler Heath and Molly Tarrant, Arabella Advisors

One of the most rewarding elements of advising families is watching their engagement deepen and their family bonds strengthen, often through the addition of next generation board members who are passionate about making an impact and who bring new skills and perspectives. As we’ve seen with many of our clients, when done thoughtfully, introducing young family members to philanthropy can help shape their worldview, develop their professional skills, and bring them great personal rewards.

Students at Kabanga Protectorate Center (Tanzania), a Palmer Foundation grantee and refuge for children with albinism

Students at Kabanga Protectorate Center (Tanzania), a Palmer Foundation grantee and refuge for children with albinism

Peter Lischick, current treasurer and member of the board of directors of The Palmer Foundation, is one such next generation board member. The Palmer Foundation turns 25 next year and has been in existence nearly all of Peter’s life. Like many family foundations, its early structure was relatively informal and reflected the annual giving and interests of its founders, Peter’s great-grandparents. When the foundation’s assets were fully vested, his grandmother took over leadership of the foundation and his mother and other members of her generation joined the board. They set out to involve the next generation at a young age.

When Peter was nine or ten years old, he joined his two brothers and a cousin on a junior board. “I served as the vice president by virtue of being the second oldest of the group. Our parents kept the board very structured, and taught us about Roberts Rules of Order, sourcing and evaluating grant proposals, and conducting discussions in a respectful and productive manner,” he says.

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How Your Generation Influences Your Giving

By Janice Simsohn Shaw, Exponent Philanthropy

The manager, a Baby Boomer, wants to schedule a meeting where she can sit across the table from her employees and discuss the latest project. Her longtime staff member from the World War II generation is ready to go, looking to share stories about what used to work well for the company. Her Millennial employees, meanwhile, have been bombarding her with e-mails sent while they are out picking up their dry cleaning and running home to feed their dog. They have questions about the project and want instant feedback on the work they’ve done so far….And that’s without adding in the Generation Xers who would rather nix the meeting entirely so they can actually work on their piece of the project. —Jennifer Gish/Women@Work, Times Union, August 27, 2012

Sound familiar? Today’s philanthropic sphere isn’t so different—up to four generations aiming to work together, with the potential for success as well as frustration. Add family to the mix, and the stakes are even higher.

Much has been written about how to engage the next generation in giving, but less has been written about how to engage across generations—about how multiple generations, young and old, can better understand one another, communicate, learn, and explore giving together.

Considering generational personalities is one way to improve our understanding of one another. As Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman write in When Generations Collide, “The events and conditions each of us experience during our formative years determine who we are and how we see the world.”

At Exponent Philanthropy, we’ve had powerful conversations with those engaged in family philanthropy. At conferences, when grouped by generation, participants often realize that, regardless of political, socioeconomic, or religious background, there is deep commonality among those who simply grew up at the same time. Participants also come to realize that some characteristics they see in their family members aren’t unique traits but a product of their generations.

Peruse the chart below. See yourself reflected in your generation? What about others involved in your giving? How might understanding your generational experiences inform how you give—and work—together?

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Voices of Philanthropy’s Next Generation

By Stephen Alexander, Exponent Philanthropy

“We need to hear from them, in their own voices. We need to know who these next gen major philanthropists are, and who they are becoming.” #NextGenDonors

As a Millennial, I spend a lot of time with, well, Millennials. It makes sense—this is my peer group. Millennials in the philanthropic and nonprofit spaces are generally upbeat, thoughtful, engaged, bright, and eager to act despite seemingly gargantuan economic, political, and cultural hurdles before us.

Recently, I started engaging with nonprofit networks and organizations run by Millennials—powerful forces being driven by motivated, charismatic individuals. Groups include Exponent Philanthropy’s very own network of Next Gen Fellows; DC chapters of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and Net Impact; and local giving circles NextGenNow and Capital Cause.

I’ve also been paying particular attention to the uptick in my generation’s media attention, including a blog post by Exponent Philanthropy’s own Andy Carroll. As I sift through my collection of media, here are a few poignant statements that resonate with me:

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Build a Pipeline of Philanthropic Talent

By Janice Simsohn Shaw, Exponent Philanthropy

What keeps our members up at night? Succession, or the crucial task of passing the leadership baton.

Building a pipeline of philanthropic talent to assume key leadership roles—on the board, on staff, or otherwise—is one great way to prepare for succession. Through our Next Gen Fellows Program, a 6-month training intensive for philanthropy’s future leaders, we’ve been lucky enough to have a window onto what readies the next generation for great work in the field.

Here are a few recommendations.

Find a Community of Peers

Philanthropy can be a lonely enterprise, and particularly so for young people. Luckily, there are great ways to connect locally and nationally with young people involved in giving.

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