How Can We Study Integrated Philanthropy in Complex Multi­‐Generational Families?

a family of two parents and two kids smiles at the camera

Generations of Giving: A Landmark Study

In 2006, Lansberg Gersick & Associates and NCFP published Generations of Giving, presenting the results of their research on governance in multi­generational family foundations. That study explored the key challenges to high-­quality organizational functioning in these foundations, and was designed to help families who sought continuity to successfully transfer their foundations to succeeding generations.

But much has changed in the world of family philanthropy over the intervening decade. Many third-­ and later-­generation families have evolved multifaceted philanthropic structures with complex governance systems. Their legacy family foundations are often only one part of the machinery through which families express their philanthropic and social responsibility vision.

How Do Families Manage Multiple Donor Vehicles?

The field has accumulated stories from some of these families, but we still have much to learn about how successful families manage their family dynamics as they fulfill their governance responsibilities in guiding these complex philanthropic activities. Our experience suggests that, while the philanthropic operations may be compartmentalized into different grantmaking structures, family members see these efforts as interconnected, as a way of sharing good practices—and as expressions of the family’s values, overall philanthropic agenda, and self/family-­image.

Generations and family branches often differ on both goals and preferred means. And most importantly, families have limited time and energy for governance—as the organizations get more complex, the requirements for family involvement may begin to feel overwhelming if they are not carefully and efficiently managed.

The challenge is for us to better understand how families coordinate all of the disparate components, so that the family philanthropic identity is authentically represented by the overall scope of the work done in its name. To accomplish that, the family must recognize and address some very specific but critical questions: With all of our philanthropic activities, how do we decide when to coordinate, when to keep our efforts separate, when to use different vehicles to accomplish different goals, and how to allocate our time and energy across the different activities?

The Research Project

As a next step in researching these critical questions, NCFP and LGA initiated a new research project on family philanthropy. We invited a small number of families to participate who have:

  • A history of significant philanthropy for two or more generations
  • members of at least two generations currently involved in some aspect of philanthropy
  • three or more active philanthropic structures in place (one or more foundations, donor advised funds, corporate social purpose programs with family input, values aligned/mission investing of the endowment, and/or significant individual giving programs, etc.)

We began with a first call to review the research protocol and to discuss the logistics of the data gathering. Then we visited most of the families for a day of on-­site interviews with approximately four to eight key family and non‐family informants. In addition, we conducted a review of all materials and communication that speak directly to the research questions.

We gave all of our participants an important pledge on confidentiality: the written reports and presentations from the study will not identify the families who participated. All materials and interview comments collected as part of this research were handled with complete confidentiality, and all analyses and reports will be aggregated so that the sources of the reported results remain anonymous. Of course, each family is free to acknowledge that they were in the sample if they so choose, but that information will not come from our research team.

As the results of the study are developed, the first dissemination of analyses and conclusions will occur at NCFP’s National Forum on Family Philanthropy (Chicago, IL) in October 2019. Our presentation will include lessons learned from the experience of this sample of families and recommendations for the broad range of philanthropic families who are facing increasingly challenging governance dilemmas in their complex systems.

The LGA Research Team will also prepare one or more documents that summarize the conceptual issue, the research design and data analysis, and the implications for the field of family philanthropy. The likely formats are: downloadable reports, blogs, issue briefs, and professional and academic articles and additional conference presentations.

LGA looks forward to continuing our strong partnership with NCFP, with our mutual goal of understanding and supporting family philanthropy in all of its forms. We thank our family research participants who gave us their time and their thoughtful, frank reflections on the dilemmas that they have successfully resolved in the past and those that they face now and in the future.

For further inquiries about this research program, contact the LGA Research Team lead, Wendy Ulaszek, Ph.D. at, and please stay tuned!

Be sure to join the LGA team as they discuss this unique and deeply informative research on NCFP’s August webinar, Family Philanthropy Through Multiple Vehicles. Register here or contact with questions.