Family Philanthropy Playbook for Community Foundations

Unit 3: Family Fundamentals

This unit helps you understand the basics of family systems and family dynamics, the meaning of wealth, and succession planning. Learning to navigate these issues with families takes time and practice. Some foundations choose to hire external experts to deal with the issues rather than develop and maintain internal expertise.


READ: Family Systems 

Community foundation staff are rarely trained in therapy or social work, but a basic grounding in family relationships and systems helps you spot strengths and challenges that will carry over to philanthropic conversations:

  • Eight Concepts of Family Systems (Bowen Center) – the basic concepts of Bowen family systems theory are fundamental to understanding the complex interdependence and relationships between family members. (Free)
  • Family Systems and Family Issues: Community Foundations and Philanthropic Families (Gersick, 2006) [members only] – Dr. Kelin Gersick distilled his understanding of family structure, governance, relationships, and more as part of the 2006-08 Excellence in Family Philanthropy initiative.
  • Family Systems and Issues (TPI, 2007) [members only] – The Philanthropic Initiative created this PowerPoint presentation to provide basic training on navigating family systems and issues. The file includes TPI’s presentation notes.
  • Genograms and Family Philanthropy (Nieb, 2006) [members only] – Family therapists, social workers, and some professional advisors create genograms – a version of a family tree diagram – to map family relationships. Dr. Sharon Nieb provided this training to community foundation staff as part of the 2006-08 Excellence in Family Philanthropy.

“I first learned about genograms in 2007 when Charlie Collier and Kathleen Wiseman did a session for donors at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Sharna at 21/64 has included genograms in the 2.0 training and has a pad with space for handwriting genograms. GenoPro is the software that we used a couple of times, but handwriting seemed better. I don’t recommend trying it while meeting with a family. I suggest taking notes during the meeting—asking them to share information about their family, or for a family tree—and asking open-ended questions during the process. After the meeting, go back and draw based on what you heard and wrote.” – Audrey Jacobs

READ: Family Dynamics and Culture

Family dynamics are the ways family members interact with each other. Their interactions, values, norms, and traditions create the family’s evolving culture. These resources provide a good grounding for both new and experienced staff:

  • 10 Habits of a Healthy Family Culture (Courtney Pullen, 2017) – Pullen’s list is excerpted from his book Intentional Wealth.
  • Family Culture: Creating a Resilient Family Tree (Forbes and Nowlin, 2018) – sound advice on passing on family values and culture.
  • Family Governance Meets Family Dynamics (Angus and Herz Brown, 2007) – This NCFP Passages issue brief is essential reading.
  • Leadership and Continuity in Family Foundations (Gersick et al, 2006) – this excerpt from the classic book, Generations of Giving, grounds you in four dimensions of family culture and key concepts of family dynamics.
  • Mapping and Understanding Family Dynamics (Guedj, 2007) [members only] – Dr. Thierry Guedj provided this training to community foundation staff as part of the 2006-08 Excellence in Family Philanthropy It reviews family systems, the “family dynamics iceberg,” common warning signs of family problems, and more.
  • 21/64 201 Course – a few community foundation staff have taken 21/64’s 201 course to understand family systems and learn to manage family dynamics. The course also provides accessible ways to talk about money and overcome money taboos.  ($2,500+)

DISCUSS: 5 Cases on Family Philanthropy Dynamics [members only]

The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) developed these quick case studies for internal discussion by community foundation staff. They deal with issues such as dictated participation, uneven levels of involvement, and family member ambivalence.


READ: Family Wealth and Money Issues

Talking about money—even about money set aside for philanthropy—can be tough for all families. The source of family wealth, generational and cultural differences, personal styles, the influence of advisors, and more complicate the matter. These resources will help you better understand those complications and ask better questions of families:

  • Immigrants and Natives to Wealth (Grubman and Jaffe, 2007) – James Grubman contributed to NCFP this classic article about the differences between people who make, acquire, and inherit wealth.
  • Philanthropy’s Role in Developing Responsible Adults (Davis and Sole, 2011) – many advisors to families of wealth focus on overcoming counterproductive behaviors of their clients’ progeny. The authors of this edition of Passages believe a more constructive approach to raising responsible adults emphasizes positive practices, such as philanthropy.
  • The Practices of Effective Families (Charles W. Collier, 2006) – Long-time and legendary Harvard fundraiser – and founding NCFP Board member – Charles Collier suggests six essential questions about family wealth and seven practices of successful families in this brief synopsis of his classic book, Wealth in Families.
  • 21/64 201 Course – a few community foundation staff have taken the 21/64’s 201 course, the second day of which provides accessible ways to talk about money and overcome money taboos. ($2,500+)  You can purchase tools such as Raised Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise and Time Talent Treasure and Ties ($12) without attending the course.

TUNE-IN (45 minutes): Raising Children With Wealth

In 2014, The San Francisco Foundation invited Coventry Edwards-Pitt, author of Raised Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, to discuss how parents can teach their children the lessons they need to launch into fulfilling and independent lives. She’s also spoken for the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta and Community Foundation of Northeast Florida.


TUNE-IN (60 minutes): Spark Session—Money, Values, and Culture [members only]

How can families create healthier money narratives and habits which can, in turn, create healthier alignment in their philanthropy? What are the appropriate roles of foundation staff and advisors in supporting those often-stressful family conversations? In this 2019 webinar, former Minneapolis Foundation staff member Robyn Schein, national expert Ginni Galicinao, and two trustees of the Longbrake Family Foundation shared the experience, tips, and tools they’ve learned from supporting philanthropic families in their money journeys.


READ: Succession and Transitions

Families often fail to plan for effective succession between generations and for the unexpected transitions such as death and divorce. These resources provide guidance to staff who often end up initiating that planning work:


TUNE-IN (2 hours and 53 minutes): Succession Planning

Consultants from Lansberg Gersick & Associates discuss their tips for planning for effective succession between generations.

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