2017: A Landmark Year for Family Philanthropy

The start of a new year always inspires me to reflect on the blessings we’ve enjoyed and challenges we’ve faced together — and to think about the amazing opportunities that lie ahead for our field.

But this year feels a bit different to me. And I suspect it does for you, as well.

The events of 2016 laid bare deep divisions that are pushing family philanthropy to face challenges many of us have not been forced to confront before. No matter which issues your family supports, you are likely entering 2017 feeling uncertain about how you can navigate these turbulent times — and how your family can use its philanthropy to improve lives and communities.

Yet, in the midst of this uncertainty, I have never been more confident in family philanthropy’s ability to lead and drive change.

During the past two decades, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of you to advance the practice of family philanthropy and, as I look back on that time, it’s amazing just how far we’ve come.

When we started the National Center for Family Philanthropy in 1997, there was little understanding or recognition of family philanthropy’s unique characteristics. Family foundations had been doing incredible, world-changing work for decades. But this work was largely done in isolation.

Today, as our organization prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary, family philanthropy is not only recognized as its own discipline, it has blossomed into a thriving, diverse, and constantly growing network.

Families have been working together to create and hone best practices, share ideas, and work together to advance important issues.

And, as our Trends in Family Philanthropy research has shown, the field’s best days lie ahead. Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s more than 42,000 family foundations have been created since 1990, and family foundations continue to be a popular giving vehicle for the next generation of philanthropists.

In addition, more than 60 percent of these newer family foundations expect to receive additional assets in the next four years.

This research shows that the trailblazing families that started foundations during the first half of the 20th Century are being joined by a new wave of families who are looking to leverage their financial and intellectual resources to advance society. At the same time, longstanding family philanthropies have been evolving to incorporate third, fourth, and sometimes even fifth generations into their work.

It’s an exciting time — one in which the values of and lessons learned in our past are colliding with the energy of the present to set the stage for a future filled with amazing possibilities.

Yes, the world outside of us is posing some stiff challenges. But we’re ready!

With this in mind, we’re inviting all families to join us in celebrating the past, present, and future of family philanthropy by taking part in a series of activities NCFP is planning in 2017 in conjunction with our 20th anniversary. Our goal is not to call attention to our past accomplishments, but rather to use this occasion as an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of family philanthropy — and engage you in discussions that will shape the field’s next 20 years.

Here are just some of the ways in which you can join us in celebrating and advancing family philanthropy in 2017:

  •  The National Forum for Family Philanthropy — More than 400 philanthropic families and leadership staff at family foundations will gather in Washington this October for peer networking, thought-provoking conversations, and substantive, research-based education on the latest trends and issues impacting the family philanthropy field. This biannual gathering has become a touchstone event for our field — and we’re thrilled to be able to host it during our 20th anniversary year.
  • The History of Family Philanthropy — NCFP is working with The History Project, to capture and preserve highlights of our work over the past 20 years, creating a digital archive of the family philanthropy’s accomplishments and achievements. This dynamic, interactive timeline will include both a history of NCFP’s work, featuring parallel and overlapping histories for many of the families and foundations we have worked with over the past 20 years, and the stories of families who have helped to establish a national legacy of private philanthropy over the past 150 years. In addition, moving forward, the timeline will be a repository for additional success stories and lessons learned for new donors and the public at large.

  • Splendid Legacy 2: Creating and Re-creating Your Family Foundation — We’re kicking off our anniversary year with the highly anticipated second edition of Splendid Legacy, our comprehensive resource for families that are starting or renewing foundations and preparing the next generation to get involved in their work. I’m personally excited about this new release, which features advice from
    some of the field’s leading thinkers and leaders.

  • Transparency and Accountability project — NCFP recently received a two-year grant from the Fund for Shared Insights to help promote peer exchange around the importance of transparency and accountability in family philanthropy. This important new project will address a number of critical questions, including: How do you balance your commitment to the donor’s legacy and the family’s shared vision with the immediate needs of the communities you serve? What is your responsibility and opportunity for sharing what you’ve learned – including the mistakes you have made – with others? How can you be sure that you are accountable as you guide this special public trust?

  • Helping Families Identify Their Strategic Lifespans — With the support of a major grant from the Quixote Foundation, NCFP is launching an effort to help families and donors consider the question of perpetuity. The result will be a variety of tools, articles, webinars, convenings, and outreach activities designed to help you make and continue to affirm your choice.

All of this, of course, will supplement a number of existing activities that are aimed at helping position giving families for success. We invite you to join us throughout the year during our webinar series, by reading (and contributing to!) our blog, and by exploring the resources in our online Knowledge Center.

And we, of course, have planned too many great things to fit it all into one calendar year!  An additional project to envision the future of our field, and a closing program in September 2018 in San Francisco, are just two of our “too much for 2017” anniversary projects.

Now, more than ever, we’re ready to help you and your family’s efforts to make a difference.

Our challenges, as always, are great. But your family of NCFP staff and peers are excited to support and partner in your life-changing work.