Five strategies for managing transitions in family philanthropy

Understand what “transition” means for your family. Over time, family philanthropy may involve many transitions; it makes sense to understand and anticipate these changes, so you can plan for them. In Generations of Giving, author Kelin Gersick and his team identify the most challenging transitions for many philanthropic families:

  • Inter-generational transitions. These changes come when roles and responsibilities pass from one generation to the next. Families must adapt as donors, trustees or leaders leave for other projects, retire or pass away.
  • Decision-making transitions. Decisions once made by one person or a few people are now made by several individuals. Families must find ways to collaborate, develop consensus and make decisions together.
  • Management transitions. Family members choose to govern while letting staff manage their philanthropic mission. Families must determine how to allocate their manpower to maximize their potential.

See the slide show below for additional tips and strategies for managing each of the above types of transition in family philanthropy.

Five strategies for managing transitions in family philanthropy

Set your policies and intentions before you need them.

Many of the changes in family philanthropy can be anticipated. That’s why families benefit from making a plan before something becomes an issue. Developing policies for board eligibility, roles and responsibilities, term limits and other aspects of governance provides a template to follow during transitions. So, too, does board discussion of donor intent, perpetuity, mission and geographic focus. The more clarity your board, family and staff have around these issues, the easier transitions become.

Example: If you are considering whether to allow spouses to serve on the board, you don’t want to make this decision when a family member becomes engaged to someone relatives don’t like. Making important decisions in the heat of the moment turns your choices into a referendum on a specific person rather than what is right for your philanthropy.


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