Death and Legacy Transitions

About this collection: How can you plan ahead for the inevitable death of your founder or founders, as a foundation and as a family? And how can you honor your late leader’s legacy while moving the foundation forward?

The death of a family member—especially a foundation leader—is likely the largest change a family foundation will undergo. Suddenly, or not so suddenly, family members must grapple with grief and loss, and also an onslaught of financial, legal, and organizational issues.

How can you plan ahead—as a family, or as a family enterprise (business, foundation, family office)? And how can you make sure family dynamics don’t unglue all the good that exists already?

Please see the NCFP Content Collections on Exploring Donor and Family Legacy and Living the Legacy for related information and resources.

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How Can We Prepare for the Death of Our Founder or Donor?

Ask the Center
In this month's edition of "Ask the Center," we are pleased to share a guest post from Suzanne Hammer, founder of Hammer and Associates, discussing the recent passing of her father: "In the midst of a loved one dying, there are many decisions to be made. There’s paperwork and …

Death, Legacy, and Leadership Transition

Passages Issue Briefs
The death of a foundation leader or senior family member is likely the most emotional change a foundation will undergo. Suddenly, or not so suddenly, family members and the board face grief and loss, and also an onslaught of financial, legal, and organizational issues. How can you plan ahead, as …

Things We Wish Our Founders Had Told Us: Interpreting Donor Legacy

Passages Issue Briefs
This special NCFP Distinguished Fellow Essay by Susan Packard Orr explores the questions that Susan and her fellow trustees wished they had asked of the founders when they were still alive. From the introduction: This year marks the 20th anniversary of our father’s death. Our mother has been gone …

Additional Perspectives and Resources

On A Donor’s Death

Impact Story
When a founder passes, how can you both move on from “personal favorites” while also honoring the founder’s interestst and taking into account the needs of the institutions they cared most about? This short piece from NCFP’s “Living the Legacy” Journal shares the perspectives and approach that one …

Learning from Each Other: The Dyson Foundation

Impact Story
Note: The following are excerpted from essays written by Anne E. Dyson, M.D. and Robert R. Dyson; they were originally published in the 1996 and 1997 annual reports for The Dyson Foundation and re-released in 2001 as part of NCFP’s Living the Legacy guide. Celebration of a Life: From the 1996 Report …

Family Philanthropy Transitions: Possibilities, Problems and Potential

Passages Issue Briefs
Even if your family foundation or fund is very new, chances are you have already experienced at least one transition in the lifecycle of your giving program. What have been the keep turning points in the life of your fund from the founders' initial concept to the present? Which transitions …

Difficult Discussions at Difficult Times

Passages Issue Briefs
This Passages Issue Brief offers suggestions for preparing for and responding to the effect of crises of different magnitude on philanthropic families. These include personal crises such as death, illness, and interpersonal conflicts, as well as community and national crises — including natural disasters, riots, economic recession, and terrorism.

Money and Death: Having the ‘What Happens When’ Conversation

Blog Post
The death of a foundation leader or senior family member is likely the most emotional change a foundation will undergo. Suddenly, or not so suddenly, family members and the board face grief and loss, perhaps alongside an onslaught of financial, legal, and organizational issues. How can you plan ahead, as …