Why family philanthropy isn’t just about writing a check

“Sometimes, parents don’t want to get their kids too involved, because that may reveal more about their financial resources than they’d like,” Schmidt says. “Even if they want the children to take part, the kids might not be interested – they might feel they’re busy enough in their life as it is, or that it’s their parents’ money to do what they want with.”

Sustaining a philanthropic legacy

Often, parents set a course for their philanthropic journey and expect the children to follow – which understandably, often doesn’t work. More likely, they end up running the risk of disengaging the next generation by not listening to or ignoring the other causes they may want to support. If the goal is to kickstart philanthropy as an intergenerational value, Schmidt encourages giving members of the next generation a stake in the decision-making.

“If generations two and three do not really feel compelled toward the causes or approach that the first generation supports, the philanthropic strategy may just die with generation one,” he says. “We’ve seen an effort to combat this with the Rockefellers, the Fords, and the Carnegies … they made sure to leapfrog that second or third generation ahead and have them drive some of the philanthropic approach.”

By letting the next generation feel more in control, philanthropic families can create a more sustainable legacy of giving. Even if it doesn’t mean the first generation’s causes are at the forefront, Schmidt says, the main thing is for the strategy to have an impact on society and the progress of humanity, and for it to align with what the family is passionate about.

“It’s easy to write a check. What’s harder for families is to take the time to actually consult and decide on their unified purpose in society through philanthropy,” he says.

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