A family’s story can have a profound impact on philanthropy. As family historians, we have found that many of our clients know at least a little bit about their past. Whether from stories passed down by their grandparents or from genealogical research conducted by an aunt, many people believe that they have some sense of where they come from. Often, however, there are gaps, inconsistencies, or contradictions in the story that can prompt questions. Did things really happen that way? Why were those decisions made? And, perhaps most importantly, what does it all mean?

These types of questions are often the starting point for professional family history research. That said, it is also important to recognize just how powerful a family story can be. More than a series of anecdotes or a family tree, a properly investigated and authentic family story can have a practical, wide-reaching impact. Again and again, research on happy, functional, and cohesive families has proven that the one thing they all have in common is their own strong family narrative. Or, to repurpose Tolstoy’s old adage, every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but all happy families have a connection to a shared story.

For families facing generational change, this can be doubly important. In a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, researchers found that “40 percent of family businesses globally will hand over the reins to a new generation in the next five years.” Using family history research to direct philanthropic giving is a wonderful way to ensure that younger generations will preserve and maintain the family's legacy in the future.

Read the full article about family philanthropy by Heidi Druckemiller and Stephen Chambers at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.