In late 2019 I completed my doctoral research on how multi-generational families in Canada govern their giving. This was before most of us had heard about COVID-19, and prior to the most recent and robust calls for racial justice globally. These days of course, in response to a palpable shift in the status quo, philanthropy for many generous families, and the role of their family in mobilizing their philanthropic capital, have been front and center.

Much of what we know about how families organize themselves for giving is from the experiences of family foundations (Feliu & Botero, 2016; Gersick, Lansberg, & Davis, 1990), but I was particularly interested in learning from families who gave primarily through charitable vehicles other than private foundations. Today, generous families have many more options and vehicles than private foundations through which they can do ‘good,’ and family philanthropy governance in these contexts has rarely been explored.

The families in my case study gave through donor-advised funds DAFs, charitable vehicles which have experienced exponential growth in both the US and Canada (Rooney, 2017; Strategic Insight, 2018). DAFs have no corporate governance requirements, enabling a more organic view of how generous families approach their collective giving when governance practices are at their sole discretion.

Through my case study, I observed that these family DAF holders are incredibly thoughtful about how they organize themselves, and that the core elements of family philanthropy governance transcend giving vehicles. Most importantly, effective governance ultimately strengthens families and has the potential to increase their philanthropic impact in the community.

So how do generous families organize giving as a family? I created the Family Philanthropy Governance Model© to answer this question based on the findings of my study. Four elements provide a blueprint for families to construct (or deconstruct) a relevant approach to their giving governance:

  • Governance Actions (what families do)
  • Principles of Engagement (how families do it)
  • Governance Enablers (what families need or draw on), and
  • Governance Differentiators (what factors may inform families’ choices).

Within this model, the families in my study brought to life three practices for effective governance: articulating purpose, harnessing social capital, and evolving and growing. Perhaps they will help advance thinking about your own family’s experience of giving together, or how you support generous families in their giving.

Read the full article about family giving models by Dr. Sharilyn Hale at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.