The National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) has been an invaluable resource for me as I navigate the tumultuous waters of helping to direct my family’s foundation. I was first invited to participate in the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation in 2004, soon after I turned 25. I later was a board member for eight years and now have served as President of the foundation for almost four years.

When my family board voted me in as president in 2011, one of the first calls I made was to Ginny Esposito at NCFP. I had one question--where do I begin? From that day forward, NCFP has been a trusted ally and incredible resource for the many questions and challenges I have had in this journey.

I have been to a number of programs led by NCFP over the years, all of which have helped me build insight and given me tools and resources to help my family do philanthropy better. Most recently, I attended the Trustee Education Institute (TEI), a three-day intensive program designed specifically for family foundation trustees--like a bootcamp for people who are in the unique position of stewarding the philanthropic assets of a family foundation.

 

Participants discuss the the financial oversight responsibilities of foundation
trusteeship during the TEI session, "Finance for Family Foundations"

 

TEI was filled with sessions on hard skills. Given the narrow focus of the audience, these sessions were extremely relevant and the information was delivered in a way that made even the most boring (but necessary!) topics fun. One of the highlights was Andrew Schultz talking about the legal basics of a foundation. Now who would imagine that could be a fun topic? In typical NCFP fashion, they brought in the country's top thinkers and made it fun and funny. While the thought of talking about tax codes and legal limitations might make most people want to snooze, learning about the fiduciary responsibilities and other legal duties of being a foundation trustee is one of the most critical topics one should truly understand--yet we so often overlook these important subjects just because they seem boring. But, NCFP managed to get the essential messages across and make it fun. Other hard skills covered at TEI included impact investing and strategic philanthropy. Helping trustees consider all the tools in the toolbox to make change--and thinking through how best to make that change--are just some of the hard skills NCFP conveyed to all of us at the TEI.

But running a family foundation often means bumping up against issues such as family dynamics and conflicts that evoke a whole range of emotions. NCFP understands this unique intersection of family and philanthropy--and all the challenges and opportunities that come with it. TEI addressed many of the soft skills necessary to elegantly and productively manage this complicated terrain.

 

NCFP Distinguished Fellow Susan Packard Orr with President and Founder Ginny Esposito

 

One session I was particularly impacted by was a dialogue Ginny Esposito facilitated on family dynamics. I was struck by her comment that, while most families talk very much about all of the conflict they confront in their family foundation setting, in reality there is much more conflict avoidance than overt conflict. She helped us think through how to address these underlying and often silent conflicts, when and how to bring outsiders in to navigate these challenging times, and most importantly how to ensure that neither the family nor the philanthropy is sacrificed at the expense of the other.

Finally, one of the most important parts of TEI was learning from my peers. There were so many family foundations represented, and so many different ways each of these foundations approaches its work, that I left the meeting with an endless supply of new ideas and lessons learned from other families on this same path. TEI was structured to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, a key element that contributed to its success in helping me absorb so much valuable information. It was such a joy to have peers to bounce ideas off of and different models to learn from. In particular, I was struck by the talk NCFP Distinguished Fellow Susan Packard Orr gave over dinner one evening. She was so candid in sharing both the joys and pains, the ups and the downs, the positives and the negatives--and importantly what has worked and what has not--in her family's journey with the Packard Foundation. It is rare to have a leader in the field like Susan speak so openly about her family's experience, and I was inspired by their story.

 

Participants take part in "Passion with a Purpose," featuring a site visit and discussion with Kelly Sweeney McShane, Executive Director of Community of Hope and Board Chair, William J. & Dorothy K. O'Neill Foundation and Jim Epstein, Co-Founder and
Chairman of Blue Ridge Produce and Chairman, EFO Capital Management, Inc.

 

I believe NCFP's work is invaluable to the field of family philanthropy, and, importantly, to the individual families and philanthropies they serve. The Trustee Education Institute is just one example of the many high quality programs they run, and I feel every family foundation trustee would benefit from the program. Because I believe in NCFP's work so deeply, I became a member of the board last year. I look forward to attending future NCFP programs and continuing to learn from the leaders in the field of family philanthropy as our family continues down this unique path of doing philanthropy together as a family.