All hands on deck: Next gen board promotes new leadership

A few summers ago, the board of the Lawrence Welk Family Foundation issued a challenge to young family members. Gathered at a family-owned resort in San Diego for the family’s annual meeting, the fourth generation of Welk family members was told about a local shelter for homeless families. The shelter hosted a preschool and therapeutic learning center that needed a new air conditioner. It would cost around $1,000, and the children, ages four to 14, were going to help. The children went out in teams throughout the resort raising funds by selling doughnuts.

“They were really invested in it,” says Lisa Parker, the foundation’s President. “There was no way they were leaving without raising this money, and they did it.”

When the children heard that they had not only succeeded but that they had raised enough money for two units and the family board was going to match the funds they had raised, Parker says, “You could have heard the hollering, the cheering, the excitement all the way in DC.”

Launching a next gen board

It is through activities like these that the Welk Family Foundation continues the legacy of giving begun in 1960 by musician and entertainer Lawrence Welk. His daughter, Shirley Fredricks, became the foundation’s president in 1980, and quickly convinced her fellow board members to launch one of the nation’s first next generation boards. Ranging in age from 14-24, the third-generation Welk family members were included in the family board meetings and site visits but weren’t given voting power. They could review proposals and participate in discussions but not participate in the final vote.

Third-generation family members then met in breakout sessions to distribute 10 percent of the grantmaking budget. They could vote to further fund the senior board’s choices, fund some organizations the board had not, or present their own proposals.

“They had to lobby each other and decide together how the money would be distributed,” Shirley says.

“One benefit for all of us was learning about the decisions and the jargon that comes with board service,” says Lisa. “It prepared us for board service in other areas of our lives as we became adults.”

The opportunity to make their own proposals allowed next generation board members to explore programs outside the grantmaking guidelines. They contributed to organizations fighting AIDS in the early 80s. The grants were small, but the young board members were proud to be a part of the nonprofits’ work.

“The foundation didn’t have a focus on environmental issues,” says Lisa, so next generation members found local organizations like Santa Monica’s Heal the Bay. “It’s one we’re particularly proud of because Heal the Bay has become a force to be reckoned with.”

A generation grows up

By 1997, the young philanthropists were all grown up.

“We thought, ‘Why doesn’t everybody just become a board member?’” Lisa says. “In our naïveté, we went with that. That worked for a while, but it was tough finding a time to meet. We were in that phase of life where we’re in medical school, starting families, and traveling.”

Shirley stepped aside and Lisa became president that same year. Over the next few years, the board anticipated the potential problems of a larger, more involved family and created the policies to address them. The board created classes of board members serving three-year terms, staggering the classes’ terms of service so the board wouldn’t be entirely replaced in a given year. The board’s size was limited. Seven to nine board members would serve at any one time.

Later, the board was opened to spouses who brought new insight and enthusiasm, but the foundation created rules in advance about what would happen in the event of death or divorce. The board required the participation of representatives from each of the three branches of the family and a certain number of lineal descendants to encourage and preserve family presence.

Passing the baton to the 4th generation

In 2008, the $1 million family foundation re-established its Junior Board for fourth generation Welk family members, now ages 2-17. The members decided to distribute their $3,000 allotment equally between the Cambodian Children’s Fund, Right to Play, and a Romanian orphanage—the idea of one grandchild whose best friend was adopted from Romania.

When told they could break the amounts up, and give, for example, $500 to one, and then more to another, the children objected.

“They said, ‘Oh, that wouldn’t be fair,’” says Shirley, who facilitated the session.

One 7-year-old family member recently celebrated a birthday and asked friends to bring gifts for children at the local children’s hospital instead of for her. Lisa’s son gave his Christmas money to Marin Search and Rescue. He was invited to meet the team leader who praised his philanthropy and showed him slides of the team’s rescues.

One grandchild, age 13, learned in school about Invisible Children and the plight of Ugandan child soldiers. While major hostilities have ceased, he learned, the peace is tenuous, and many in northern Uganda still lived in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. The young man wanted to do something. In addition to successfully securing matching funds from the family foundation, he went to his father’s Rotary Club to raise more money, and has since spoken at churches, synagogues, and other service groups to raise awareness.

“It’s about doing it in a natural, organic way,” says Shirley. “It’s not parents and grandparents saying what they need to do. We’re saying, ‘Go into your communities, and find out what you care about.’ They’re discovering the organizations they love, and funding them.”