The most effective philanthropies are those that involve multiple generations and get the best out of all of them.
– Ginny Esposito
How do family foundations keep the focus on family in their philanthropy?
In a January webinar, three family foundation colleagues from multiple generations joined NCFP’s president Ginny Esposito to talk about families large and small, and the shared values that hold them together over time.
- Watch the replay or read the full transcript at NCFP’s Knowledge Center. Participants include Kerry Alys Robinson, Board Member of the Raskob Foundation, Michael Meadows, Former Board Member of the Meadows Foundation, and Ellen Remmer, President of the Remmer Family Foundation.
One of the webinar participants, Kerry Alys Robinson, is a fourth generation family member of The Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities. The foundation, now in its 72nd year, is headquartered in Greenville, Delaware, although family members are spread across the country, even overseas. The fifth generation has now come into adulthood, and there is even one fifth-generation member serving on the board.
In the webinar, Robinson shared insights about her large, diverse, and dedicated family, and what they value most:
“Currently the foundation has 100 direct descendent relatives who are active members of the foundation. That means each one of us is responsible for making site visits, reviewing proposals, and making a decision on funding in consultation with other cousins. We are very active participants in the philanthropy.”
With this massive family spread in almost every state of the U.S., Robinson said it’s the philanthropy that holds the family together. “I have access to my first cousins, second cousins, second cousins once-removed in a way I otherwise wouldn’t. There is an intimacy that has been afforded to all of us through coming together to carry out the work of the foundation. I’m not sure I would know most of my family if not for the foundation.”
At the Raskob Foundation, the entire family places a huge premium on the youngest members of the family, and has created a structure to support them in their growing leadership.
Kids are introduced to the family foundation at a young age, said Robinson. “I literally grew up in this culture of philanthropy. It's now a little bit more formal. When a direct descendant of the founders John and Helena Raskob turns 18 years of age, they are formally invited into membership. And if they say yes, they go through an apprentice period. So from age 18 to 21, young members take on gradual increased responsibility. Each apprentice is allowed to choose from the active members one mentor to guide them (typically an aunt, uncle, or older cousin).
“We’ve created a built-in system and network of mentors. What’s beautiful about it, from a family perspective, is that young adults learn from the generations that have come before them.” she said. “And as young members get older and gain more confidence and leadership in the foundation, they are called upon to serve as a mentor to those in their late teens/early twenties. It’s quite a beautiful, organic tapestry.”
The foundation also encourages young members to have meaningful responsibility and leadership. “We encourage the youngest members to serve as chairs of committees or represent the full family at a Catholic Bishops Conference meeting and give a public address. It’s often terrifying for the young adults, but once they say yes, they become much more deeply invested in the mission and work of the foundation. I think this has been a key to our success in keeping each generation truly engaged,” she said.
“When you empower young adults through meaningful leadership, they are likely to stay with philanthropy longer. That’s certainly been the case with our family. Members tend to stay with the work of the foundation for the rest of their lives.”
Editor's Note: Read more on Kerry Alys Robinson and The Raskob Foundation in NCFP’s forthcoming Passages Thrive at Five: The Secrets of Long-Term Family Philanthropy