Editor’s note: As the National Center for Family Philanthropy continues its ongoing focus on the topic of transitions, this month in Family Giving News we feature an excerpt from “A Legacy Lives On: The Kaplan Family Foundation’s Successful Leadership Transition,” the new Passages Issue Brief on the Mayer and Morris Kaplan Family Foundation’s experience with transition—the factors that contributed to their success and those that challenged them—in the hope of helping other families who will inevitably face leadership transitions of their own.
Ask any family member and they are usually able to identify the current family leader. This is the person around whom everyone gathers; the person who takes responsibility for family networking, intervenes in family disputes, reminds others of the family’s history and generally serves as the glue that holds the family together. And when this family matriarch, patriarch, or other family leader dies, sadly many families struggle to maintain their shared bonds.
The same holds true for family foundations. Vibrant and successful family foundations often have a family leader that inspires family involvement, manages family dynamics, and provides direction. When this leader dies, particularly if it is the founder of the family foundation, the emotional and organizational loss can be deeply destabilizing for the family and the foundation. Family foundations that wish to continue to grow and engage future generations must successfully weather this period of instability and reconfigure themselves around new family leadership. This is probably the most significant change a family foundation will experience and many family foundations fall apart after the founder dies.