Having recently attended the Council on Foundations’ Summit here in the Washington area, and after having attended more than 25 of these conferences (and countless others) over the years, I’m struck by how much I still learn when the philanthropic world gathers. There are amazing insights to be found in the experiences of those who have much to teach.

I also come away with a feeling I have known and valued before – the feeling that comes from the stories of those trying to make a difference in their communities and for their families. It is a deeply inspiring and powerfully motivating feeling. It is a privilege to both hear the stories and know that I go back to work in service of those making the difference.

As with most conferences we attend, the National Center for Family Philanthropy had a booth to meet and greet attendees, share resources (the cookies and chocolates were very popular!), and offer those in family giving complimentary consultations with experienced philanthropic advisors (and me too).

I met members of a family foundation board composed of several family member/spouse couples. They are trying to figure out how very different couples make a commitment to something they can share to enhance both the impact and the family experience of this foundation.

I met a couple trying to figure out a future staffing solution for their foundation. They glowed when they spoke of their pride in their adult children who already have philanthropic commitments of their own in addition to their work together. They want to reconcile their need for administrative help, their children’s busy lives, and the family’s mutual vow to have an outstanding foundation.

I was part of a session on perpetuity at the conference (the substance of which serves as the feature of this issue) and listened to Al Castle speak about more than a century of charitable tradition in his family, Dan Bader remember his mother’s hopes for the future of her gift and her sons’ participation in that future, and Astrid Bonfield speak of the legacy of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her sons’ commitment to carrying that legacy forward, beyond the limited lifespan of the memorial trust that bears her name.

Finally, I am struck by how supportive we are of one another. Emily Tow Jackson eloquently accepted a Critical Impact Award on behalf of her family’s foundation. It was enlightening to hear how the foundation set out to find unmet needs and, ultimately, identified juvenile justice as a great community need but a tough one when it came to raising funds. But it was especially moving to hear Emily speak of her parents and the example they set–particularly their willingness to move beyond their personal grantmaking interests.

I was grateful for the generosity of spirit that led one couple, finally having dinner at 9:30 after a very long day, to take time to thank me for the session earlier that day. Their warmth was as palpable as their dedication to their giving

Competition may be a given in many fields (may even enhance some fields), but I have found little negative competition in family philanthropy. Maybe we appreciate how scarce these private resources are and how difficult it can be to do a really good job of giving it away. And maybe, when the work gets a little too demanding, too emotional, or too complicated, we can remember a great story or a time when someone took the time to appreciate our efforts.

If you have written or recorded some of your family’s giving story, please share it with me. You are chronicling not only your personal history, but the history of a growing movement. And you are providing the inspiration and the incentive for others to join you.

And, if no one has said it to you lately, thank you for what you do. It makes a difference – to your grantees, to your community, to your family, and to a world of those who can learn from and be inspired by you.

 

Virginia M. Esposito
President, National Center for Family Philanthropy