Inspiring Family Giving

Happy 2007 and welcome to a New Year of Family Giving News!

This is a very special year for all of us at the National Center for Family Philanthropy. It is our Tenth Anniversary year and we plan to devote a great part of this year celebrating the donors and families who inspire us. Your commitment to service, excellence, and the public good represents what we want to encourage as well as what encourages us. Hence, our anniversary theme: 10 years of Inspiring Family Giving.

As we’ve begun thinking about our anniversary, we have thought a lot about our unique role in service to philanthropy. I believe it is our sensitivity to the role of the donor and family members. We value philanthropic excellence and we value the personal role of the donor and donor family in pursuit of that excellence. Our mission is drawn from this sensitivity and these values; our research, publications, educational programs, and services begin with our mission and develop with a commitment to the highest possible quality – both in content and presentation.

Under the guidance of an anniversary committee and our Board of Directors, we will plan a year of programming designed to highlight and serve donor families. One of the areas marked for special examination is the role of family governance. I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about nonprofit governance, family foundation boards, and fund advisory structures. In some cases, these writings are decades old; in others, very recent. Of course, I have read and re-read the writings of John Nason. His lists of the qualities and responsibilities of trusteeship are as insightful, fresh, and compelling today as they were years ago. Several family foundations have adapted Nason’s lists for their own families, creating standards for participation and expectation on the family foundation board.

But I have also been challenged by other, perhaps less well known, thinking about governance. In her seminal essay, “Trusteeship,” Margaret Mahoney, former president of The Commonwealth Fund, quoted foundation trustee Thornton Bradshaw: “Organized philanthropy is restricted in its actions only by the intelligence and conscience of those who run foundations.”

Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation trustee David Dodson would have pushed the conscience requirement even further: “Fulfilling the trust society places on us calls on trustees to exercise … ‘moral imagination’ – the ability to push ourselves beyond the moral minimum, to listen closely to the world around us and respond based on our highest and best institutional values.”

Thinking about governance in the context of our anniversary, I have been wondering what countless family trustees – who, like Mahoney, Bradshaw, and Dodson – have taught me about excellence in trusteeship. Further, how does the National Center’s “lens” – the perspective of donor and family – influence that picture? I realize that I have been privileged to witness intelligence, conscience, and moral imagination. But I have also been moved by the personal passion and creativity that many family trustees bring to their work. I find I particularly admire those willing to tackle the challenging and the risky. Finally, I am inspired by the vision of those who, motivated by their own mission, values, and grantees, imagine a better future – a future achievable because of the contributions of private philanthropy.

I think our anniversary is an opportunity to learn from those we serve and to imagine the future. Knowing what we know, committed to what we can learn, what is the best possible agenda for the next ten years? We are going to launch a series of local conversations about governance and other topics of concern to donor families. We are continuing to develop the National Archive of Family Philanthropy and welcome your family stories and histories. We’ll be expanding the online Family Philanthropy Knowledge Center and publishing more issue papers. I invite you to share the readings and thinkers that have shaped your philanthropic perspective with me. I urge you to share your ideas about the philanthropic future and how the National Center for Family Philanthropy can best advance that future.

I wish you health, happiness, and imagination in this New Year. And I hope that the many thousands of you who have called or written us over the last ten years, attended a program, served on a committee, participated in a survey or interview, provided financial support or offered guidance and encouragement in so many ways – join us in this celebration. It is, most certainly, our anniversary and our future to imagine.