Family philanthropy mirrors so much of what we care about and who we love that it is often reflected in many different aspects of our lives. It’s about relationships, passions, and the way we would like to make the world a better place.  Little things can remind us why we care about excellence in family philanthropy. Consequently, it should not have been a surprise to sit in a photography class last week and find myself thinking about giving families.

I registered for the course to better understand the technical elements and advances my new camera had to offer. I was making the leap from the film work I had studied and practiced for years to a sophisticated new digital camera. As I’ve counseled families many, many times: transitions are complicated and patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s required.

I expected the focus on the technical. Without that kind of proficiency, how could I hope to get the most out of my photography? What I didn’t expect was the emphasis on what it meant to be a good photographer. It was as much about the shooter’s eye as it was the ISO; as much about your feelings about the subject as shutter speed. It’s as much about who or what you are framing as how you frame it. The best photography likely comes from both sensitivity and skill. The success of the class was in the recognition that a good process owes as much to compassion as it does to detail.

The genius of family philanthropy is found in that same dynamic. Good grantmakers need to be familiar with nonprofit law, finance and investments, management practice, and issues related to their priorities. Good family grantmaking goes further in understanding family dynamics, loyalty, legacy, and values. We place a high value on relationships – within and among our family, boards, staff and advisors, grantees, and so many others in our communities of care, cause, and geography.

One of the best examples of a family foundation that embodies this dynamic is found in the McKnight Foundation. An engaged board, a talented staff, good process that seeks results with purpose and accountability with respect – all are hallmarks of this remarkable family foundation. And no chief executive brings more sensitivity and skill to her work than McKnight President Kate Wolford.

Kate’s article on social media is featured in this issue of Family Giving News. Her foray into the world of Twitter is yet another indication of her commitment to learning. Providing highly-regarded leadership for a major American foundation for several years might be enough for some CEOs. Resting on your laurels could be a temptation in an otherwise challenging position. Not for Kate. The opportunity to add another tool of such great potential to her communications portfolio intrigued and motivated her to build this new skill. And I’m sure she took to it better than I did to exposure compensation.

I hope the next time you take a picture – or consider a grant – you reflect on your own considerable skill sets along with your inspiration, hopes, and vision. You might just find they contribute to a powerful and compelling image come true.


Ginny Esposito
President, National Center for Family Philanthropy