The 6 Motivations for Family Philanthropy

Why does your family give?

This question is central to the work you do — because it helps understand the motivations behind your foundation’s mission.

Over the past two decades, we’ve had conversations with hundreds of foundation donors and founders — and we’ve found that these family leaders most frequently mention at least one of the following six personal experiences as inspiration for their philanthropy:

  1. Faith and Spirituality. Every religious or faith tradition includes some tenet urging concern for others. Many of today’s donors openly articulate the spiritual link between faith and their giving. Their giving may not be directed (or solely directed) to religious institutions or causes, but the link is strong just the same.
  2. Traditions. Many founders talk about family traditions that shape their charitable conscience. One fourth-generation family foundation trustee/family member recalls her parents placing three boxes on her childhood book-shelf. Each box held an equal portion of her allowance: one-third for spending; one-third for saving; and one-third for charity. Her earliest understanding was that money had three, equally-important purposes and that you budget for giving rather than simply spending what might be left over.
  3. Mentors. Most of us can point to people who had a profound impact on our lives. Grandparents, parents, aunts or uncles, teachers, colleagues, and neighbors can often provide examples and encouragement at important moments, counsel us through difficult situations, help us with a career move, or simply set powerful personal examples.
  4. Personal Interests and Experiences. Many founders note that they became engaged in philanthropy because of a special, personally-important issue or event. For example, some founders have had a lifelong interest in the arts or a love of the outdoors. Others are influenced by an intensely personal experience, such as the death of a loved one or receiving a much-needed scholarship.
  5. Community Involvement and Volunteering. Entrepreneurs who go on to become generous philanthropists often were active in their communities long before they had the wealth to make significant financial gifts.
  6. Business Skills and Experiences. Some new donors have their interest sparked by a business colleague who was already an active donor and who shared their enthusiasm and interest. This is becoming even more common in modern workplaces, which are more regularly becoming ready-made networks for philanthropic learning and support. One of the great opportunities of philanthropy is giving successful businesspeople a chance to use their professional skills and experiences for a very different bottom line.

The preceding was excerpted from Splendid Legacy 2: Your Guide to Creating and Re-creating a Family Foundation — a must-have resource for all giving families.

If your family is taking steps to reconnect with the values of its founders — or if you have friends and colleagues who are making decisions about their own philanthropy — we encourage you to order now.