Aligning Legacy with Liberation: What if your family’s legacy was rooted in supporting liberation for all peoples?
“Your family’s legacy can in fact honor previous generations, their sacrifices and opportunities; as well as hold a necessary critique of the harm these opportunities may have caused for many others,” says author Will Cordery. Will and his team at Freedom Futures share their Aligning Legacy with Liberation™ framework and the belief that a family’s liberation is deeply attached to the liberation of marginalized communities.
What do we gain when we think of legacy as the good we do instead of as the material success we’ve had?
Lauren, a young millennial and one of our first clients, once said that, although she is committed to moving her family’s giving back to Black and Indigenous communities, her mother and her mother’s siblings are still deeply attached to how their grandfather earned the family fortune and the sacrifices that even their father made to carry on his dad’s legacy and hard work. Lauren is now three generations removed from who made the money and how it was amassed. She’s also seen how all of that “hard work” to make the money sometimes brought pain and distance within their family, including to her mother who had a father and grandfather with priorities that were more focused on living in the cold, sterile world of business rather than living in the warm and vulnerable world of love. Lauren is not alone.
Lauren’s story is not unique; we hear some iteration of this exact history from many of our clients. Understandably, wealthy people and families want to both honor this legacy and preserve the history of the family’s wealth accumulation and philanthropy the future generations of their family to understand where their wealth came from. Perhaps, this desire is in hopes that their kids, grandkids and so on will receive some insight on what it means to work for something. But what often gets lost in the history that is passed down is the harm this success for a few may have caused for many—including their own families.
The Impacts of Wealth Accumulation on Families and their Relationships
I have been working in the field of philanthropy and community organizing for 20 years and have learned that wealth accumulation has huge implications for communities and society as a whole. However, we so often overlook the frequent and less positive lasting impacts on the generations of families that become the beneficiaries of that wealth. Isolation, inter-family trauma, imposed expectations, and pedigree are some of the common woes that I’ve heard. Furthermore, there is often a dynamic tension for inheritors that grapple with being grateful for the wealth and knowing they didn’t really do anything to deserve it. Inheritors often look for purpose in their work or life choices that is separate from their family’s wealth and family business. It is also why many wealthy people prefer to not talk about their wealth. By its very nature, wealth separates those with it from the rest of the world in order to preserve it.
By its very nature, wealth separates those with it from the rest of the world in order to preserve it.
And families do feel this pain. It has been my experience that they often rationalize it away with the notion that they must preserve their family’s legacy. It is a self-imposed obligation. But what if we challenged that notion? What if wealthy people were able to unburden themselves from the belief that their legacy is only tied to the continuing to hold philanthropic assets in perpetuity with disbursements being made to causes and organizations aligned with a narrowly defined and understood vision. What if, instead, families could come to see their legacy as more complicated and nuanced—that the ways in which their wealth was accumulated may have been based in extractive capitalism, and that in working to repair that harm, their legacy could be much greater?
My philanthropic advisory, Freedom Futures, helps support our clients on their journey of reparative giving through our Freedom Futures’ Aligning Legacy with Liberation™ (A.L.L. Families) program. The program is a curated and personalized process of coaching, learning, historical level setting, and community engagement. We help families align their giving with social transformation, as well as embody the belief that their liberation is attached to the liberation of marginalized communities. By resourcing social change and transformation they can also transform themselves and their families for generations to come.
Building a Legacy for the Future
Your family’s legacy can in fact honor previous generations, their sacrifices and opportunities; as well as hold a necessary critique of the harm these opportunities may have caused for many others.
Among the many reasons a family decides to start a foundation or a fund is a belief that joint efforts to be philanthropic can bring some connection and purpose to their family across generations while honoring their family name and legacy—and hopefully these family funding efforts aim to do more good than harm. But in truth the family’s legacy is not complete: what is the story you want the community and future generations to share decades from now? And what if that legacy was able to hold the dynamic tension of both how your ancestors accumulated money in ways that caused harm but were able to work to heal some of these harms with how they return that money back to communities? What if your giving was reparative for both marginalized communities and for yourselves?
A family’s legacy should be seen as evolving and circular. Your family’s legacy can in fact honor previous generations, their sacrifices and opportunities; as well as hold a necessary critique of the harm these opportunities may have caused for many others.
We have been working with the Satterberg Foundation, a family foundation with three generations and two branches of family on its board that is deeply engaged in a process of reparative giving. They are moving money back to Black and Indigenous communities without designation or obligation and they are doing it at a pace that far exceeds the minimum payout requirement. Their conversations now are about how their reparative giving will shape their legacy to their family and to the community in the next 10 and 20 years. We are talking about what they want their legacy to be when the money has been spent down and the family foundation has closed its doors. This reckoning and repair is for the community and for themselves.
It is important for families to understand that their legacy is not only how they accumulated their wealth, rather it is what they do with it and the long-term impact it could have for generations to come beyond their own family’s well-being. Your legacy is not how you began, but how you end. It is not what you believe you did well; rather it is what the community believes you did well. Let that legacy be that you both supported and embodied liberation.
Will Cordery the Founder and Principal of Freedom Futures, a philanthropic advisory firm unlocking financial capital for social transformation, and a trustee of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation.
The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.
Learn more about how you build a legacy for the future at an upcoming conversation with Will Cordery and the Milliken Family on June 29.