Many of us grew up sitting at the family dinner table. Often, it was rectangular, with the family’s primary bread winners sitting at the far end of the table. Whatever the shape, the rest of the family members sit in designated seats, night after night, year after year. Sometimes, long after the kids have grown up and left the family, when they come back for a family meal, they automatically grab their childhood seats at the family table.
In most families, that dinner table had a set of built-in energy dynamics, family customs and expectations and rules. Sometimes they were subtle and unspoken; Other times they were much clearer and more pronounced.
Once the kids leave home for school, work, family building and more, the multi-generational family philanthropy creates a unique opportunity to set up a new table for young adult and adult family members to sit, share, develop and work. Invitations are based on common values and goals around money, kindness and making a difference.
Think of the new philanthropic table as a circle (literally or figuratively), where each member of the family can be invited to sit equally, compare voices and share their own lenses of the world through voting on how the family can develop its benevolence . Influence and inheritance.
Most public interest capital is no longer actually owned by the family and represents a relatively small percentage of a family’s total wealth. Instead, it has been irrevocably donated to a family foundation or donor-sponsored fund and is no longer visible on the family’s balance sheet. Alternatively, this capital has been earmarked for the charity and will be donated soon. Either way, publicly committed capital usually separates from the rest of the family’s assets and makes it easier to negotiate and distribute with less attachment to personal influence.
Establishing a clear mechanism for family benevolence is essential for its success. Based on our experience working with dozens of many generations of families, we have learned that three steps are essential for its success.
The first step is to jointly establish new ground rules, which differ from the rules governed at the dinner table. Ask each other, “How do you want all family members to be present at the new public welfare table?” This is often the most difficult step for members of the wealthy generation who are accustomed to roast.
It is clear, however, that members of the emerging generation will actively participate in a mutigenous benevolent family effort if they have meaningful, equal seats at the table. Good foundation rules naturally arise from family members. These are not imposed by elders or outside beneficiaries.
Here are some examples of the many basic rules established by those we’ve worked with:
- All members of the family have equal voices; Everyone is encouraged to actively participate.
- Decisions will not be made unilaterally; The purpose of collective decision making.
- No “eye roll” or “sigh” is allowed; Rather, show respect for all aspects.
- There are no barriers.
- Take conflict and its solutions as a necessary catalyst for learning and change.
The next step is to express a common purpose for the public good. Ask each other, “What do you want to gain from this experience?” Each family member may answer this question differently. Some of the answers we’ve seen are:
- Learn more about effective, strategic public interest;
- Learn more about each other, especially across geographically scattered siblings and cousins as well as their spouses throughout the growing generation;
- Establish new ways for families to communicate and support each other;
- Help the family to prosper in lineage;
- “Put it forward” acknowledging gratitude for the family’s good fortune; And
- Influence their community, country or world.
Creating a good mission statement is the next step in setting a new table for family welfare. Family members can ask each other this question:
- What is our focus?
- Do we want to save or change – especially?
- Do we want to focus on a geographic area?
- In what time will we give?
- Do we want to collaborate with other funders – or go it alone?
- How do we measure success?
Most families want to preserve wealth, values and inheritance for generations. Studies show that many factors affect a family’s ability to reach that goal. At the top of the list almost always is a shared commitment to a family, community, service and philanthropy.
Following these three steps is much more likely to make the family’s benevolent efforts a success. This makes it more likely that the family will prosper on its own – by learning to communicate better, to work together and to support each other across generations, distances and times.
Nonprofit of the month
Founded in 2012, the Second Chance Center is now the largest re-entry program in Colorado, helping former inmates re-establish their lives and become successful members of the community. It maintains a recidivism rate below 10%. Advice on housing, training, employment, healthcare and addiction are important in shaping new lives; The SCC offers peer advice to all of them – those who lead the way have prison life experience. www.scccolorado.org
Bruce Devsky, JD, a social strategist who works with The Dibsky Group across the United States to help families, businesses, foundations, and family offices plan and implement thoughtful public interest strategies and action plans. He is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and workshops on issues of public interest. Visit Deboskeygroup.com or @BDeBo