The Principles of Effective Family Philanthropy: Reflection & Learning

Effective family philanthropy makes a collective commitment to meaningful societal change. It holds itself accountable to impact as defined by community, and to the proven practices that support it. It is adaptive, evolving with the family and the community or ecosystem within which it operates. It shares or cedes power with different family members and generations, as well as staff, communities, and grantees. Learn more about the principle of reflection and learning in the context of family philanthropy here.


Tegan Acton: When you approach something with humility, you are also opening the door to understanding that you might not have the answers and that there is a learning journey ahead of you to even have a sense of what those answers might be.

Regan Pritzker: The water is warm, jump in, and to come and approach this work with humility and with a learner’s mind, with a really willingness to understand that, you know, you may have grown up in a certain context with a certain set of values and a certain ecosystem that, you know, is valuable and we want you at the table, but that there are other worldviews out there. It’s really important to be ready to listen and learn and get out of your bubble.

David Weitnauer: The real juice for family learning are shared experiences, relationships. When that works, when that warms up, it’s like it opens the pores of one’s learning.

Dave Orr: One of the things that we’ve just always been very intentional about is trying to learn. We work on hard, intractable, hard to measure problems. I think you need a combination of things. I think you need metrics that at least shed some light on the situation, even if they don’t perfectly capture it. And then you need to make sure you don’t trust them too much, that you understand the context and that you’re really not trying to optimize this metric, you’re trying to solve the underlying problem, and sometimes those can be pretty different. And then just asking ourselves every so often, like, what could we do better? What went wrong? Why didn’t this work? Because frequently things don’t work. And sometimes the answer is, “Well, it just hasn’t been enough time.” And sometimes the answer is like, “No, we need to rethink what we’re doing.”

Don Chen: When we finally do that assessment and learning, if things don’t turn out the way we expected, we need to be really candid about that because, you know, it’s always great to talk about success and positive outcomes, but one of the most valuable things that we can do as foundations is to be very candid about things that didn’t work out, and it’s an incredibly valuable lesson to people in the field. If we’re all in it together trying to advance social justice, racial justice, we can’t waste time. We need to learn from our mistakes.

Mailee Walker: To listen to those who are most proximate to the issue, to listen with an open mind and an open heart, and even if it’s hard, lean into discomfort through that listening. That’s definitely what I would say number one.