A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Social Impact Culture: Three Strategies to Help Your Family Foundation Connect With the Next Generation

How does today’s social impact culture affect the way you engage your children and grandchildren in your family’s philanthropy?

That’s a question many trustees of America’s 42,000 family foundations are asking themselves as they look more closely at strategies to fulfill community passions, conduct responsible grantmaking, and inspire a philanthropic legacy for the next generation.

Three strategies can help you build a bridge to your family’s future philanthropic leaders.

Clarify, communicate, and celebrate your vision

“Our family foundation takes a shotgun approach,” commented the daughter of an entrepreneur who formed a family foundation upon the sale of a business.

Compare that to the founder’s statement: “Every grant I’ve ever made has been 100% aligned with my commitment to supporting a healthy workforce in our community. Without a healthy workforce, my business would never have been successful.”

What’s up with that? Children and grandchildren are frequently confused about the foundation’s process for making decisions about which nonprofits to support.

Takeaway: Make sure your family foundation’s records include the reasons for grantmaking and the underlying passion that started the foundation to begin with. Celebrate your foundation’s story and vision statement so that family members see it and hear it frequently.

Check it out, online

“I am glad I am part of our family’s semi-annual meetings to discuss grantees from the foundation my grandparents started a few years ago. One thing that surprises me, though, is that the grant reports we review don’t always match what the nonprofits list on their websites as ‘impact.’ I want our family to be able to communicate about these issues between meetings so we are not caught off guard when we start to Google our grantees just before the meeting.”

What’s up with that? The next generation of philanthropists is checking out charities online—and your foundation should be too.

Takeaway: With information readily available at anyone’s fingertips about nonprofits and their programs, your opportunity—and responsibility—is to be familiar with what’s out there. Look beyond the reports submitted by grantees to determine how impact and outcomes are being reported on the websites of the nonprofits your foundation supports. Then, share that information with your family members to help them get more familiar with the causes you support.

Make impact your agenda

“Philanthropy is really part of my lifestyle, so I need to be reminded at every meeting that the giving we do through our private family foundation is having a specific impact.”

“I am doing a lot of good already, by volunteering and serving on boards. Plus I try to purchase products from brands that support a cause. So, I am inundated with ‘doing good’ every day of my life. Our family foundation needs to stand out, and the meetings are where it all comes together. Otherwise it’s just one more thing to deal with.”

What’s up with that? Your family foundation’s board gatherings are an opportunity to demonstrate a focus on impact—even if the meetings are casual and informal. In today’s social impact culture, work, life, and community have converged. Anytime you are together is a good time to discuss your foundation’s impact and share information about grant making results.

Takeaway: Your family foundation’s meeting agendas need to go beyond just the traditional check-the-box legal and financial matters. Focus on social impact and the important role of your family’s philanthropy to enrich the lives and wellbeing of your children and grandchildren, as well the lives of real people in the communities you support.

Laura McKnight and Ann-Marie Harrington, partners in Embolden, are experts on social impact culture and the work-life-community-wellness continuum that is shaping the contemporary mindset. Embolden has built a track record as a leading digital communications and marketing firm specializing in high-growth sectors, such as financial services, philanthropy, and health care. Embolden’s client base has included more than 100 community foundations. 

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