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In our experience, if you are serious about getting results with your philanthropy and seek to work with your family to do so, there are four explicit ways to increase your odds of success. Because each family is unique, with its own values, assets, and challenges, you will want to ensure that you work to take advantage of your assets and minimize the challenges.
1. Identify your primary objective before you begin serious giving as a family.
Is your primary objective to serve the family, by creating a forum for family togetherness, shared experiences, and public service? Or, is it to serve society, by doing all you can to create one or a few particular results with your philanthropy? Often families try to do it all; however, trying to be loyal to both objectives may lead to irreconcilable conflicts in your decision-making.
2. Decide whom you would like to involve (today, and in the future) in your philanthropy.
The term “family” can connote everyone from your spouse, children, and siblings to more extended relations. However, for most philanthropists, the primary question is how to involve one’s spouse and children (and potentially their spouses). There are many ways such close relatives could get involved, from holding seats (either continuous or on a rotating basis) alongside you on your foundation’s board, to being employed by your foundation (if you have one) to being an informal advisor at the dinner table. How do you imagine working with your family members as you execute your philanthropy?
3. Identify which fundamental values and beliefs will guide your family philanthropy over time.
It’s rare to find a family where all members are universally passionate about any one cause. However, agreeing to support too many causes can set you up to spread your giving too thinly to make a difference. So what do you do if you and your spouse support the arts, but your children care most about the environment? Defining a few anchors for your family's giving—even if doing so involves some hard conversations—is a critical step to running your family's foundation efforts with the clarity necessary for effective resource allocation.
4. Be clear about how resource allocation decisions will be made.
Given that foundations exist to give money away, resource allocation is directly tied to foundation effectiveness. Even with the question of who will participate (and in what role) answered, you will benefit from being clear about exactly how resource allocation decisions will be made—specifically, what organizations or causes will you fund, for how long, and with how much money?
Read the full article about achieving high-impact philanthropy traps at The Bridgespan Group.