10 Questions to Help Start the Values Conversation

Editor’s note: We are pleased to share this guest post from Suzanne Hammer, founder of Hammer and Associates, on the topic of starting a values conversation with your family. To see the original post, go here

The way to fulfillment in philanthropy—and by and large as a family—is the degree to which you are driven by purpose and shared values. In other words, why you give matters just as much, if not more, than what you give.

Whether you are talking about preserving wealth or giving it away, it’s important to be clear on the family and individual values that drive that decision. Yet, how many people have voiced their own values, less held a conversation with loved ones about the values they share?

My guess? Not many.

Values are the core principles that guide us as individuals, as a family, and as executives of a family office. Every action we take, whether consciously or not, comes from an underlying value—one we likely have learned and embodied through role models or hard-earned experience. Yet values aren’t necessarily top-of-mind for people thinking about philanthropy. Too often, an enthusiastic donor or family jumps to: “Where (or to whom) do we give?”

Values aren’t about giving to the homeless or the library or your alma mater; they are the underlying virtues that lead you to those decisions. When we are aligned with our values, we feel connected with the world around us, as if we are living life on purpose. Values inform our decisions; they strengthen us as families and communities, and they often form the basis of the legacy we leave.

Ideally you and your family members share a common bond based on values, but it’s not always so easy. Values may differ among generations and/or family branches, and in some cases, these differences can cause conflict and strife. The trick is to stay committed to the process until you uncover the deep-seated values that hold the family together, regardless of age, personalities or varying interests.

It helps to articulate your values as a family, and in fact, it’s best practice to do so as a first step in philanthropic planning. Talking about values, and even putting them to paper, will illuminate your family’s identity and culture.

Perhaps your family most values inclusiveness, social justice, freedom…respect for elders, loyalty, faith…creativity, self-expression, individuality. Just as every person is different, so too is every family, and it’s a learning experience to discover the distinct blend of values that comprise the family as a whole.

If you’re unsure of your values, look at how you (and other family members) spend your time. It’s easy to “say” you value something, but if you don’t actually give it any time or attention, how important is it, really?

Getting clear on values will help you “talk” your walk.

Here are 10 questions to help you start the values conversation:

You can answer these questions on your own, or bring them to your family meetings.

About Values…ask yourselves:

  1. What does the word “values” mean to me personally? As a family?
  2. What’s most important? What are some of the values that have guided and sustained me through life? (Jot down freely whatever comes to mind.)
  3. Where did these values come from?
  4. What family stories or role models have instilled my values and worldview?
  5. How do these values show up in my actions? In decisionmaking? In the way we relate to one another?

About Family Giving…ask yourselves:

  1. Why does our family exist?
  2. What is the purpose of our wealth?
  3. What change would we like to see in the world?
  4. How would we like to be remembered?
  5. What are the most important values we share in common?

These questions may seem simple, and yet they can evoke rich discussions—ones that may bring your philanthropic mission and goals into focus. And holding these important conversations now may help you and your family members stay inspired over time.

Have you held a values conversation with your family? What did you learn about yourself, and about other family members? Drop me a line at Suzanne@SuzanneHammer.com. Other families can learn from your experience – anonymously of course!