In my experience, accumulated over the course of a professional career working with and observing philanthropy and philanthropists, I believe there is a strong argument to be made for multi-generational philanthropy based on the notion that wealth accumulated over multiple generations or through the extraordinary success of one generation ideally should be used to build social capital with long-term, recurring benefits.
Paraphrasing Warren Buffett, a philanthropist-friend once told me that he intended to leave enough for his children and grandchildren so that they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.
Creating a legacy of shared family giving is one of the best available ways of preparing future generations for leadership roles in their communities, based on an understanding that inherited wealth is not only a means for personal gratification but carries with it a responsibility for advancing the public good.
There are of course legitimate first-generation concerns about whether their children’s values and charitable priorities might well diverge from their own. And the jury is certainly out as to whether members of the “entitled generation” now coming into their own will share their postwar, baby boomer parents’ commitment to collective responsibility and sacrificial giving.
There is reassuring news, though, for those concerned about passing on charitable assets for their children to steward. Not only is there much that can be done to train the next generation in the art of philanthropy and social responsibility, but the process can produce enormous psychic benefits for both generations and bring families together around a core of shared values while respecting diverse generational interests and priorities.What then can parents (or grandparents, aunts, or uncles) do to nurture a spirit of giving among the generations coming up and instill in their children and grandchildren the values and tools they will need to be responsible financial stewards and effective philanthropists?
First and foremost, in philanthropy as in most other areas of life, adults need to authentically model the values and behaviors they hope to instill in their children, preferably from an early age. The agenda is fairly straightforward. Social consciousness and engagement built on respect for others and concern about their well-being; a curiosity about the world around us and a commitment to continual learning; and a spirit of generosity, volunteerism, and charitable giving would seem to be good places to start.
Parents can engage their children, from a young age, in “family activism”: working together on a hands-on community project (preparing meals or bagging groceries for a food pantry, cleaning-up a neighborhood park, caring for an abandoned animal); writing a letter to the editor or a city council member on an issue of family concern, perhaps one identified by a younger family member; and/or setting aside some dollars for collaborative “mini-grantmaking.”
Encouraging children to set aside a portion of their allowance, gift money, or income from chores for charitable contributions is another excellent way to teach young people generosity and the value of sharing. It is also not unheard of for children as young as elementary-school age to participate from time to time in family discussions about charitable contributions, or even in age-appropriate family foundation convenings.
As children mature into their teen and young adult years, encourage them to participate in community-sponsored youth giving circles — mini-foundations convened and staffed by a growing number of community foundations to teach basic priority-setting, research, and grantmaking skills. In many communities, sophisticated collaborative giving/grantmaking groups exist for young professionals and, if properly staffed and led, provide an excellent environment for developing sound strategic philanthropy skills.
The payoff for members of the older generation, of course, is the enormous psychic satisfaction they can derive from seeing children and grandchildren follow in their footsteps: taking up community leadership roles, supporting important causes, and adding another chapter to the family’s philanthropic legacy.
But the payoff for succeeding generations is no less compelling: the feeling of pride and satisfaction that comes from being entrusted with the responsibility of managing important philanthropic assets and the authority to participate in determining how those assets can and should be used in relevant and effective ways.
Philanthropy, generosity, and collective responsibility are values that can be modeled, taught and passed from generation to generation. Done successfully, these lessons can prepare children and grandchildren to carry forward a family tradition of giving while laying the groundwork for good citizenship, civic engagement, and leadership.
In the final post in this series, I will compare three alternative models for structuring family philanthropy, each of which – properly planned and managed – can produce meaningful and satisfying long-term results, and will conclude with a few practical tips for making multi-generational family philanthropy work.
Ami Nahshon is principal consultant at Ami Nahshon Strategic Consulting, where he offers consulting and coaching services designed to help nonprofits, foundations, and their leaders optimize their mission, strategy, and performance.
Author: Ami Nahshon