Editor’s note: Several of the National Center’s most popular guides and publications have addressed the topic of transitions in family philanthropy. Here are selected quotes from these timeless publications.


Transitions as opportunities for change

“Transitions are opportunities for change, not guarantees of improvement. Transitions raise anxiety. Many family members and directors may wish for a premature decision. They would like to move directly to “commitment” without spending enough time exploring alternatives and evaluating experience.

Leaders need to avoid the pressures to choose a new structure too early. More than anything, transitions are rare opportunities when it is acceptable to ask difficult questions and to challenge routines. Leaders can increase the chances of long-term success if they open the process to a range of possibilities, test the feasibility of each option, and make decisions based on adequate, reliable data. If a choice is made prematurely, it may not stand the pressure of implementation, and in the end the organization will pay dearly if it has to undo a poor choice and start again to find a better one.”

– from Generations of Giving: Leadership and Continuity in Family Foundations, by Kelin Gersick, 2004, National Center for Family Philanthropy and Lexington Books


The energy of transitions

“Every family philanthropy experiences the joy, the sadness, the complexity, and the energy of transitions.  We welcome new generations of family members and new trustees.  A trustee or a staff member might retire.  We might refine or change our program priorities or prepare for an influx of new assets or (more likely) a declining stock market.  Preparing for these transitions and managing them well helps ensure we make the most of the opportunities they present.  Without such transitions there can be no renewal.  Whether or not your giving program is designed to exist in perpetuity, as grounded as you may be in the spirit of your founders and the family’s legacy of giving, all family philanthropy depends on the natural evolution of things and the new energy this evolution inspires.”

– from “Transitions Bring Both Joy and Sadness,” by NCFP President Virginia Esposito, November 2011 Family Giving News President’s Messag


No end to planning and transitions

“There is no end to planning, just as there is no end to action. From time-to-time, just like ancient explorers, you will continue to plan and assess your accomplishments and revise your goals as your internal or external situation changes. When a natural cycle has occurred, and internally and externally you have made a significant difference in foundation operations and mission, you should initiate another planning process. In that next process, use what you learned in this one and expand upon it.”

– from Voyage of Discovery: A Planning Workbook for Philanthropic Families by Judith K. Healey, 2001, National Center for Family Philanthropy


Transitions: Putting other challenges into context

“For those families that intend to pass the stewardship of the philanthropy to the next generation, successfully making that transition is thought by most to be the greatest challenge 
to be faced. It is during periods of transition that all other challenges seem to be etched in ever sharper relief. The more likely you are to have addressed other challenges of family participation, expectations, and the stewardship responsibilities of governance, the more likely you are to be successful (and to deal with the unexpected complexities of transition).”

– from The Power to Produce Wonders: The Value of Family in Philanthropy, page 30, by Virginia Esposito, National Center for Family Philanthropy, 2010


Rotating leadership to ease transitions

“The practice of rotating leadership can make transitions easier. If leadership is already transferred among current leaders, it is much easier to transfer leadership to the next generation. One of the simplest and most powerful approaches is for next generation members to take over key officer positions. Senior generation members remain on the board but leadership is rotated among next generation members.”

— from Passing the Baton? Generations Sharing Leadership, by Alice Buhl, National Center for Family Philanthropy, 2008