Board Accountability, Research and Trends in Family Philanthropy

On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, I am delighted to wish you and your philanthropic family a very happy new year! In thinking about a message appropriate to the New Year, I am struck by how my feelings about this time of year mirror my feelings about family philanthropy. It is an obvious and personally encouraging metaphor.

The dawn of 2004 gives us the opportunity to reflect back on the journey thus far while looking ahead to the people and events we will encounter in the weeks and months ahead. It is a bittersweet time. Wistfulness, sadness, pride, and joy fill the spaces between memories of what has passed – the people and things lost and those added to our lives. It is a time of optimism, excitement, and maybe a little trepidation about what is to come. We embrace our legacy and we resolve to carry that legacy to even greater accomplishment. New years and family philanthropy – celebrating our rich history and our dynamic future.

The year we leave behind was filled with the striking, if confounding, juxtaposition of several significant events.

It was a year when we struggled to do as much as we could with less – and yet saw the early signs of a stronger stock market.

In a year of economic struggle, we benefited greatly from the charitable endowments established by generous, forward-thinking donors of some two, three, or four generations past at the same time we questioned the value of perpetuity in times of so much immediate, pressing need.

The year saw philanthropic families moved to contribute enthusiastically to keep nonprofits viable and their communities healthy. In many cases, these donors went far beyond legally required payouts and also made additional personal gifts. We also saw media coverage of very different activity. A flurry of newspaper articles chronicled the stories of foundations, including family funds, and detailed the questionable uses of precious charitable dollars.

We saw the most intensive legislative review of nonprofits – including foundations – in years as the policies and practices of our sector came under scrutiny. At the same time, there seemed to be little genuine dialogue or understanding of the role of philanthropic citizenship in our democracy. What does that citizenship say about public trust and stewardship? And what does it say about our own ability as a field to constructively raise difficult issues among ourselves while respecting the differences in our motivations, grantmaking priorities and governance?

It was a year we questioned the blurring of for profit and nonprofit sectors and worried about the influence of for profit companies on charitable giving. Yet, in the same year, we came to better understand the role of for profit financial institutions and planners, attorneys, and business associates in introducing potential donors to the world of private philanthropy.

It seems to me that in January 2004, both the New Year and family philanthropy deserve celebration and a few good resolutions. Just consider what we might accomplish were we to resolve:

To look to the gains in the stock market and the potential rise in philanthropic assets with the same sense of urgency we summoned when assets were declining. I hope the creativity and compassion we brought to our grantmaking in lean times carry forward to times that appear to be financially brighter.

To ensure that what we learned about funding nonprofit planning, organizational development, and general operating costs in stressful times continues to inform our work with grantees.

To embrace our special opportunity to influence a new generation of donors and philanthropic stewards. Whether our commitment is to encourage our friends and colleagues – serving as mentors to new donors – or to do our part to raise a generation of charitable children, we can all play a role in ensuring the vitality of our future philanthropic leadership.

To promote public understanding of the contributions of private philanthropy. In the absence of constructive, informative, candid, and inspiring stories, those we count on as partners and policymakers will have only the isolated stories of bad judgment and practice. Share the stories of ethical, generous, effective giving and the stories of your remarkable grantees.

As I often tell those new to this wonderful work,

Enjoy this moment and accept our sincere best wishes as you and your philanthropic family embark on the journey of a lifetime. The ride will likely have many ups and downs; there will be moments of celebration and even consternation, but it will never be dull. May you always travel in the spirit of inquiry, respect, responsibility, joy, and even awe.

Happy New Year!

– Ginny