Celebrating Fifteen Years of Advancing Excellence in Family Philanthropy

What a privilege it is to begin the New Year celebrating the National Center for Family Philanthropy’s 15th Anniversary!  For the small, dedicated, and optimistic group that launched a center committed to advancing family philanthropy in 1997, what has been accomplished in our first 15 years exceeds even our wildest dreams.

Even I (maybe the most optimistic of all) marvel at where we have come, the inspiring people we have met, and what has been done.  Maybe you’re unaware of the growth in our ability to serve donor families – and just in this past year!

  • Today, more than 10,000 people read Family Giving News, our monthly e-newsletter for and about family philanthropy.  This year we added two new features to this wonderful resource: Voices from the Field and our Friends Focus column featuring updates on the creative work of our Friends network.
  • In the past year our website and the Family Philanthropy Online Knowledge Center hosted more than 100,000 visits to over 200,000 pages of exceptional resource material.
  • We moved from the teleconference format for our monthly educational programs to the webinar format, easing participation and handout distribution for hundreds of participants throughout the United States and abroad.  The webinar format also allows us to feature instant online polling to add to the relevance and meaning of each program.
  • Did you know that because we offer our Knowledge Center by subscription to regional networks of donors (including regional associations, community foundations and financial firms), it can be accessed by more than 100,000 family giving programs?  Moreover, having access to our Knowledge Center and webinars significantly enhances the ability of these networks to serve their donors and their families.
  • By no means is our educational content delivered all virtually!  In 2012, we introduced our Trustee Education Institute to terrific reviews.  This comprehensive program for prospective, new, or renewing family foundation trustees covers the range of knowledge and experience needed by effective trustees.  We will offer this program at least annually (coming in May 2013!) and will explore regional and self-guided formats as we build the curriculum.
  • I particularly enjoy our educational collaborations that feature National Center expertise at local and regional programs.  This past year, I moved up to 75,000 frequent flier miles traveling just the contiguous states on behalf of community foundations, regional associations, and groups of donors affiliated with financial institutions.  (And Alaska and Hawaii, I’m happy to visit you too!)  In early 2012, we developed and delivered a pre-conference program for CEOs in a special partnership with the Council on Foundations 2013 Family Philanthropy Conference.  That program was a nice complement to the other retreats we sponsored for family member and veteran CEOs throughout the year.
  • Our commitment to better understanding the field through a strong research agenda continued in 2012.  We released our research findings on the roles and opportunities of the Family Foundation CEO early in the year and, more recently, our study – supported by the Threshold Group and the Family Office Exchange – on the role of the family office in facilitating the family’s giving.
  • These studies join other National Center donor family-focused research that continues to break new ground in understanding:  multi-generational family foundation leadership and continuity; the role of community foundations in support of family giving; the role of the donor advisor in the family giving process; common practices in family giving management; and the value of family participation in philanthropy – for the family, the communities served, and our democracy.  I am also very proud to remember that the National Center was instrumental in planning, funding, and delivering the Foundation Center’s first family foundation research report – a now popular study and publication the Foundation Center continues to deliver today.
  • We released three publications this year on hiring a CEO; the CEO’s first year; and assessing the CEO’s performance.
  • There are some things we could not have imagined 15 years ago but we have leapt into the social media arena with enthusiasm.  Some 3200 followers track our Twitter feed and we are often, happily, re-tweeted.  Our Family Philanthropy Network on Linked In has more than doubled this year to more than 750 members and there are always active “conversations” on your topics of choice.
  • From the sophistication of new research to the technological advances that give us Twitter followers, you might not believe that my favorite service continues to be the simple phone call or email that comes to us and we are able to help giving families one at a time.  I learn as much from these requests for information as I’m able to share and am always buoyed by the dedication to doing this work well that is part of every conversation. There isn’t an economy of scale or a big business plan bonus to this service.  But it is incredibly rewarding to spend a few minutes and help someone looking for answers and examples, often confused and frustrated, and just hoping to speak with someone who understands both their philanthropic goals and their family’s participation.  We do our best to log our calls into our database (to better understand common dilemmas or “trending” issues) and, admittedly, some of us on staff are better at this than others – okay, I’m not so good at logging in…) but we estimate that we responded to more than 2000 such emails and calls this past year.

None of this happens without three things being in place: solid attention to organizational development and effectiveness; a terrific staff; and a volunteer network that is as engaged and supportive of the field of family philanthropy and the National Center as it is possible to be – and far greater than one could hope.  All of you participate in some way: you fill out an evaluation after a webinar or participate in a reader survey of Family Giving News.  You respond to an online or an interview survey.  You attend a program and share your ideas.  You serve on one of our committees or our Board.  And, bless you, you are a Friend of the Family or a funder – and you do make sure we are here for all giving families.

While we are thrilled with what has been done this year, we are by no means satisfied.  In 2013, I hope you’ll look forward to:

  • New sessions and retreats for CEOs – including one for those relatively new to their positions.
  • A Trustee Education Institute in May (attendance is limited and there is a $100 discount for registrations received by January 31st so register early – and consider coming in groups from your foundation!).
  • A new edition of Splendid Legacy: The Guide to Creating Your Family Foundation.
  • A new website to improve the ease of using both our public site and the Knowledge Center.
  • A President’s blog – you can tell I’m being taken more and more into the 21st Century as the National Center continues to seek ways to take best advantage of all the technologies available to us and our constituency.  It will be a place to share experiences, questions, and (hopefully!) a few insights into the field we all serve.
  • An improved brand identity to make sure donors and advisors easily find us and take advantage of our resources.  We’re very happy that a grant from the Taproot Foundation provided the pro bono consulting help we need to accomplish our goals.
  • A major new research effort, Trends in Family Philanthropy, will be launched to track developments in governance, grantmaking, management, and family participation in the field.  This study will serve as a benchmark for tracking trends in future years.
  • Twelve new issues of Family Giving News with even more new features, twelve new webinars, and several new editions of Passages, our valued board discussion pieces on topics from impact investing to next generation leadership.
  • And, as always, staff on hand to answer your questions when you need the expertise, experience, and sensitivity that only the National Center for Family Philanthropy can offer!

Throughout the year, we will continue to celebrate 15 Years of Advancing Excellence in Family Philanthropy!  We enthusiastically welcome your ideas for issues, resources, convenings, and services that will help you get the most out of your family philanthropy.

With warmest wishes for your holiday celebrations and the New Year!