New Research: Study Finds that Collaborative Model is Necessary for Family Foundations That Wish to Achieve Generational Continuity

For many, family philanthropy presents an opportunity to create a shared experience, unifying the family by working together toward a lasting legacy of impact. Family philanthropy can also give participants an opportunity to explore and cultivate their personal—and sometimes separate—philanthropic passions.

There can be an inherent tension between these two goals, and many families struggle with how to address it—especially as families become larger and more complex over time.

To delve deeper into this topic and identify models for better collaboration within families the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) worked with researchers Ashley Blanchard and Wendy Ulaszek of Lansberg Gersick Advisors (LGA), to explore how families successfully navigate this tension. Findings are analyzed in an in-depth report.

The Research

Following from this multi-year process NCFP is proud to release: Philanthropy in Complex, Multi-Generational Families: Balancing Individual Preference with Collective Purpose.

The research included surveys and interviews with members from twenty US-based family philanthropy systems and was designed to investigate how families work together in their philanthropy over time.

In particular, it considers how the family foundation’s design and operation is informed by—and informs—the family’s philanthropic activities that take place outside of it. The purpose of this study is to help families understand how they can design their family philanthropy to best meet their goals.

The study’s standout finding was that the creation of a robust family philanthropy “system” was vital to providing outlets for families’ increasingly diverse philanthropic interests. The families that most successfully perpetuated a collective family foundation over generations established different vehicles for different purposes: they had firm boundaries around collaborative and individual “pots.”

The report is based on findings from interviews with 82 individuals from 20 families. Read the report here.

“Clarity around the purpose of the family foundation and the extent to which it is or is not a space to pursue individual giving interests is critical to reducing tension over time,” says study co-author Wendy Ulaszek.

Similarly, the findings show that intentional design and management can help families work together in their philanthropy despite ideological differences. Growing ideological divisions that have been felt throughout society were experienced by the families in the sample. The research suggests that seeking out areas of common ground and relying on venues outside of the family foundation to address giving that was likely to be divisive.

“Many participants noted that ideological divisions within their families have become more pronounced in recent years. Yet, with thoughtful design, ideologically diverse families can create foundations that enable productive engagement and that their experience can be as satisfying as those for families with ideological homogeneity,” notes study co-author Ashley Blanchard.

In Summary

In sum the report highlights six primary findings related to family foundations:

  • Collaborative family foundations provide a more rewarding experience for participants.
  • Individuated family foundations have limited life spans.
  • Satisfaction with the family foundation is not dependent on it reflecting personal interests or geography.
  • Families can work together in their philanthropy despite ideological differences.
  • Later generations have an increased desire for collaboration.
  • Collaborative leadership is critical.

“This research provides a deep look into the ways families work together and how they can leverage a robust philanthropic system to ensure continuity over time, with intentional design, it is possible for families to be effective and maintain a family foundation vehicle,” remarked NCFP President and CEO Nick Tedesco “I’m grateful to LGA and study participants for helping to develop research that the field so desperately needs.”

A note on study design:

The research included surveys and interviews with members from twenty US-based family philanthropy systems. Each system included a legacy foundation and at least two other philanthropic vehicles and was in the second generation of leadership or later. In total, researchers conducted 82 interviews from 2018-2022, and 58 respondents completed the survey. A collaborative composite score was assigned to each of the participating family systems and used in the data analysis.

Find the full report, executive summary, and related resources here.