For many, family philanthropy presents an opportunity to create a shared experience, unifying the family by working together toward a lasting legacy of impact. Family philanthropy can also give participants an opportunity to explore and cultivate their personal—and sometimes separate—philanthropic passions.

There can be an inherent tension between these two goals, and many families struggle with how to address it—especially as families become larger and more complex over time.

To delve deeper into this topic and identify models for better collaboration within families the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) worked with researchers Ashley Blanchard and Wendy Ulaszek of Lansberg Gersick Advisors (LGA), to explore how families successfully navigate this tension. Findings are analyzed in an in-depth report.

The Research

Following from this multi-year process NCFP is proud to release: Philanthropy in Complex, Multi-Generational Families: Balancing Individual Preference with Collective Purpose.

The research included surveys and interviews with members from twenty US-based family philanthropy systems and was designed to investigate how families work together in their philanthropy over time.

In particular, it considers how the family foundation’s design and operation is informed by—and informs—the family’s philanthropic activities that take place outside of it. The purpose of this study is to help families understand how they can design their family philanthropy to best meet their goals.

The study’s standout finding was that the creation of a robust family philanthropy “system” was vital to providing outlets for families’ increasingly diverse philanthropic interests. The families that most successfully perpetuated a collective family foundation over generations established different vehicles for different purposes: they had firm boundaries around collaborative and individual “pots.”

In sum the report highlights six primary findings related to family foundations:

  • Collaborative family foundations provide a more rewarding experience for participants.
  • Individuated family foundations have limited life spans.
  • Satisfaction with the family foundation is not dependent on it reflecting personal interests or geography.
  • Families can work together in their philanthropy despite ideological differences.
  • Later generations have an increased desire for collaboration.
  • Collaborative leadership is critical.

Read the full article about collaboration in family foundations at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.