Nick Tedesco knows a thing or two about family dynamics. For the last 15 years, he’s worked closely with family philanthropists as part of the team that launched the Giving Pledge at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and later as an advisor at the Philanthropy Centre at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

Now, Tedesco finds himself at the helm of the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP). Joining as CEO in December 2019, Tedesco is hoping he can continue to raise the collective consciousness about the power of giving. Read Tedesco’s welcome letter which includes his insights on the NCFP Trends 2020 Study.

Tedesco recently spoke with Giving Compass and shared his observations and insights about family philanthropy.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Thinking about your previous experience, what lessons do you think you will bring to your new role?

Throughout my career I've observed the duality of giving: The joy that it brings, but also the frustration and hesitation associated with it. Donors and their families need a partner in this effort. They need a community to join and a trusted resource that helps them navigate this journey.

Wealth continues to grow and transfer at historic rates and at the same time, interest in philanthropy continues to rise dramatically, particularly as the next generation emerges. Yet, we still find that families struggle to find their footing. It's quite challenging for donors and their families to find the right resources they need to do the good that they seek to do. A sector that was built to further the success of philanthropists is, in fact, failing these philanthropists and their families. The solution is to strengthen and scale intermediary organizations like NCFP that provide donors and their families with the tools and the resources to learn, connect with others, and to feel confident in their ability to direct their own philanthropic efforts.

What is the biggest obstacle for families?

Time is a factor. Many of these individuals and families who have acknowledged their commitment to give back are still running companies, building efforts, and running families. Money that has been set aside for charitable purposes was hard-earned and these individuals and families reflect on the power of that capital and want to see it used in a meaningful way. Donors and their families know that they need to get smart on the issues, but that ultimately requires time and since time is limited, the effort is often delayed until donors feel prepared.

I also think there's also some disillusionment with nonprofit organizations. Part of donors’ frustration stems from the need to decipher between the many organizations that are focused on the same mission.

What is NCFP's "secret sauce?" What is the organization's biggest strength?

Our greatest strength is our community. At our core, we are an inspired group of engaged givers who are willing to share lessons with one another and explore opportunities to partner. We have to continue to grow that community with intentionality and we have to expand the offering.

Additionally, we have a 20-plus-year history of working with donors and their families on governance. We can help donors and their families come together to explore what they want to accomplish and build structures, systems, and policies that reflect their intentions and allow them to pursue their philanthropy with confidence in an efficient manner.

What is your #1 priority at NCFP in the next six to 12 months?

My top priority is to listen to donors and their families and the sector at large to identify opportunities to be a better partner. I am approaching this role with a lot of curiosity, enthusiasm, and hope that NCFP can continue to serve as a steward and shepherd for donors and their families. I hope we can start to facilitate a dialogue that tackles the big issues, responds to the criticisms of philanthropy, and lifts up all of the joy and generosity that family philanthropy embodies.

I have started to get out into the communities to meet with donors and ask about challenges they face in their giving and learn how an organization like NCFP can help address some of those obstacles. From there, I can build a strategy that reflects the future of family philanthropy.

What role can family philanthropy play in shifting power dynamics?

First and foremost, we can listen to the voices of the communities and populations that family philanthropy seeks to serve. We can also invite diverse perspectives to inform our decisions. Family philanthropy is a powerful movement, one that continues to gain momentum. There is an opportunity for families who give to encourage their peers to listen with intentionality, to ask questions of themselves on how they’re equalizing this imbalance of power, and how they can directly empower the end beneficiary in a way that is truly informed by them.

What advice do you have for donors and their families?

  1. I encourage donors and their families to revisit why they chose to do this work, to reflect on the motivations to give, and ask critical questions on what they see as success, and consider how they want to show up in this work. What are the values that you want to mirror back into the communities and populations that you serve?
  2. Be patient. It's an iterative and, at times, frustrating process so have faith that you'll find your niche.
  3. Don't be afraid to take risks and forget what you know about failure. Success is informed by the things that did not go right. Reframe thinking from dollars that were misspent to dollars that informed a greater learning and outcomes that are going to meet success.
  4. Have conversations early and often with the family members who you seek to engage in giving. Empower all members of the family who are part of the effort to have ownership and to be part of the process.

This is a joyful activity that has a lot of potential to do good, both for those who you seek to serve, but also for yourself and your family.