Trends in Family Philanthropy
Many families, especially those with high net worth, are deeply interested and involved with philanthropy. Over the last several years, such families have transformed their vision of philanthropy from giving to a number of charitable organizations to strategic philanthropy – funding particular projects for charitable organizations.
The role of the philanthropic advisor and the search for impact
Many families, especially those with high net worth, are deeply interested and involved with philanthropy. Over the last several years, such families have transformed their vision of philanthropy from giving to a number of charitable organizations to strategic philanthropy – funding particular projects for charitable organizations. One of the primary reasons for this transformation is that project-specific giving is more meaningful for donors and the impact of such giving is easier to measure. Donors increasingly want to know that their gifts are making an impact.
For example, a few years ago, I had the privilege of assisting a client in making a major gift through her family foundation. Prior to his death, my client’s husband received wonderful care from a palliative care physician at a local hospital. My client was so impressed that she wanted to help make palliative care more readily available. In consultation with the hospital and the chief of the palliative care department, she received information about a number of projects that would help the hospital transform its palliative care practice. The client chose to make a large donation for the specific purpose of enabling the hospital to expand its outpatient programs for palliative care.
According to Bruce DeBoskey, founder of The DeBoskey Group, a national philanthropic advisory team based in Denver, many donors are shifting away from the “peanut butter” approach to giving – spreading donations thinly over a wide variety of charitable causes. Instead, donors are increasingly focusing on charitable giving that goes “deep, not wide.” They are narrowing their focus to a limited number of causes that fit within carefully selected charitable goals.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bruce about this trend and what may have influenced this shift. He believes a number of factors have contributed to it, including:
The information age:
The accessibility of the internet means more information about charitable causes and organizations is readily available than ever before, leading to more transparency.
The involvement of younger generations:
The oft-maligned millennial generation does not want to wait until they are old and gray to get involved in charitable giving. They want to get involved now and become personally engaged, not just write a check. They want to do something that has an impact.
The Role of a Philanthropic Advisor
How do donors, particularly families with multi-generational members who have different philanthropic goals and ideas, decide what organizations and projects to support? Philanthropic advisors can provide assistance in the following ways:
- Help donors understand the difference between “peanut butter” giving and “deep, not wide” giving. By helping donors focus on a limited number of causes, they have the ability to be transformational, not only for the charitable organization, but for the donors themselves.
- Particularly in multigenerational families, the advisor can assist the family in setting a philanthropic “table” where everyone is welcome, has a voice and can be heard. The advisor facilitates discussions about charitable goals and values, helping the family find causes in common they all care about and can get excited about supporting.
- Assist donors and their families in developing a mission statement that fits the whole family and helps define its philanthropic goals. The mission statement serves two important purposes – guidance for the donors about what projects to say “yes” to, and guidance about what projects to say “no” to.
- Help the family find nonprofit organizations they may want to support that fit within their mission statement, and then work with the donors to develop a strategic partnership with the selected organization. Such a partnership helps provide clarity so both the donor and the donee organization know what to expect.
- Assist donors to evaluate and measure the impact of their contributions and determine what has been accomplished. The processes used by a philanthropic advisor in assisting donors – especially multigenerational families – are usually not quick and easy.
An advisor will often spend a lot of time with the family and interview each member individually. They seek to get to know the family and understand its dynamics. They will hold meetings, encouraging the family to explore what is important to them and what they want to accomplish. This may take many weeks or even months. Those families who have used the services of a philanthropic advisor, however, generally believe the time and effort is worth it because of the results achieved: more impactful giving, the opportunity for transformational change for both donors and donees, and greater satisfaction for all.