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Families and philanthropy: Three ways to get everyone involved

But first, think through the outcome you want!

Why are you interested in family philanthropy?

Some families believe that having wealth engenders social responsibility, and encourage family members to embrace this ethos. Others want to establish or continue traditions that bring family members together, while burnishing individual and/or the family’s legacy. Still others view philanthropy as a way to help younger family members become more financially savvy—as well as generous. And many believe philanthropy is an essential ingredient in creating a joy-filled life, and want children and grandchildren to benefit from what they themselves have learned by giving back.

Moreover, families and individuals cite these same motivating factors as the impetus for their philanthropy regardless of their level of wealth.

The rationale for family philanthropy tends to be deeply personal and is often shaped by a parent or grandparent (or mentor) and/or your own lifetime experiences.

The questions below can help you refine your own motivations—and focus on the actions most likely to engage other family members.

A 30-something couple wanted their young children to learn to value education as much as they themselves do. So, they established a family tradition: Together with their children, they select an end-of-term gift for each child’s classroom as a way for the children to say “thank you” to the school and educators for all they’d learned that year—and to make the learning environment better for the next year’s class of children.

Perhaps in your experience:

  • You inherited certain principles and values from your parents or grandparents or other family members that you want your children to embrace. Or, an important family story shaped your approach to giving and you want to share it with the next generation(s).
  • You made a charitable gift and it had lasting results. Now, you’d like family members to have that experience. Similarly, over time, your giving has evolved and you want to pass on to family members the lessons you have learned.

Keep in mind: Values are often caught—not taught

Don’t wait for special occasions. Incorporate discussions about philanthropy and giving into your family’s daily life. For example:

  • Talk about the gifts you’ve given—monetary and otherwise—and needs you see within your community. Try to identify opportunities you think will be of interest to your family. While older children may not share your world view, focusing on the values you have in common (not the differences of your views) can help guide you forward as a family.
  • Volunteer! It’s one of the best ways to build a child’s character and self-esteem. Acquiring new skills, developing confidence and maturity, can help children put their problems in perspective—and learn civic responsibility at the same time. Volunteering is also a great way for the family to spend quality time together, share experiences and develop family traditions. For teens and young adults, it’s also a chance to identify their personal passions and areas of philanthropic interest.

The matriarch of a national family business regularly meets with her children and grandchildren over dinner to share insights about her life, philanthropy and business interests. She focuses on what’s going well, and what’s not working. Recently, she set aside a pool of money for her grandchildren to fund their own charitable interests. As a condition, they must collectively determine how they will use the money, (formally presenting their ideas to the matriarch) then regularly report back on results. Importantly, the youngsters are using this experience to guide their respective families’ philanthropy efforts—which also satisfies the matriarch’s aim: that her grandchildren learn to put their money to good purpose.

Be intentional:

  • What is the message around family and philanthropy that you want to convey to younger generations now and in the future? And how would you define success as a family over multiple generations?
  • How do you want to educate the next generation to steward wealth and grow into confident and capable adults? Inform your roadmap by taking the time to learn from the emerging generation: What are they passionate about?

It’s not (just) about sharing your balance sheet:

  • The story of your family’s founding matriarch and patriarch (and/or the business they built) can be meaningful when brought to life with examples of their successes and failures and the wisdom that they gained. For example, find a way to share these stories with younger family members; perhaps at a holiday dinner or during a family celebration or in a video interview.
  • Family philanthropy can be part of a broader process of teaching children about money, from learning how to spend and save responsibly; to evaluating the financial health of non-profit grantees; to managing an investment portfolio.
  • Hands-on experience is the best way for younger family members to learn. Consider creating discretionary pools through which they can support their own causes. Start small and increase funding slowly. Or, encourage personal giving. Some families match family members’ donations with a 1:1 or higher match. Setting up a donor-advised fund (DAF) for a generation or for individual family members can also provide a powerful learning experience—while allowing legal controls to remain in place.

After decades of growing the business he founded into an international success, an entrepreneur sold the company, in part so that he could explore other interests. Most particularly, he wanted to devote time and energy to helping his community thrive. Through a newly created foundation, he is doing just that: helping people and organizations connect with each other to tackle local issues and make the most of opportunities. In the process, the once driven entrepreneur is finding a broader purpose for his wealth and experience.

What does a meaningful, joy-filled life look like?

Families and individuals alike find that wealth enables, empowers and sometimes encumbers them in their pursuit of a meaningful life. Giving and being generous can help deepen an individual’s sense of purpose.

The families that most successfully help younger family members live their values are the ones who give rising generations as much responsibility as they can handle as soon as they can handle it. They believe that the best way to learn is to do. 

Celebrate what you and your family have accomplished:

  • Often, a good place to start is to appreciate your family’s many strengths—not just its financial resources, but also its human capital (core values, communication skills, leadership capacity); intellectual capital (education and knowledge gleaned from experience); and social capital (social networks, community standing, family influence).

Then learn than by doing:

  • Be a student of your own motivations, passions and interests—and also those of your family. Have fun and enjoy each other! If you don’t have an extensive family, focus on the people you are close to: How might you influence their joy and drive impact?
  • Consider creating a mission statement that can be a reminder of what is driving your giving and the outcome you’re seeking with your and your family’s assets. This can be particularly helpful during periods of uncertainty, transition—or as the family gets larger, and the wealth moves further away from the wealth creator.

There are as many ways to engage as there are families!

We can help

For ideas about how to prepare for and have conversations with your family about philanthropy and ways for the whole family to give, please speak with your J.P. Morgan team. Your team can also provide copies of our “Family Governance” trilogy of guides and our “Children and Wealth Workbook.”

You’ll also find ideas about how to engage your family in conversations about wealth in these articles:

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