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From the start: Questions for donors and family members

Charles Hamilton

Donors often seek effective ways to involve other family members from the start. Heirs, meanwhile, look for ways to appropriately honor the legacy of the donor(s). There are many questions and issues likely to be considered by both the donor and future generations. (Source: Living the Legacy: The Values of a Family's Philanthropy Across Generations, NCFP, 2001)

Questions for the Donor:

  • What motivated the philanthropy in the first place? What is needed to sustain it? What will inspire others to participate in it? How can I communicate what motivates me?
  • Why was the foundation established as a family philanthropy? Why not as an individual giving program—one where I simply wrote checks directly to nonprofits? Why not as a general bequest to my favorite charity?
  • How have I involved other family members in developing the vision for the foundation? What am I trying to accomplish for the family and for the philanthropy? Do others understand these goals?
  • Does my vision reflect both my optimism and my trust—of my family and my community?
  • Is there a clear understanding of the “life expectancy” for the foundation? Will it go on in perpetuity or will it have a plan for spending down? Are family members expected to develop their own philanthropic vehicles or to contribute to this one?

Questions for the Family:

  • How well do you understand the donor’s intentions in establishing the foundation? How do you interpret your responsibility to represent both the donor’s and the public’s trusts invested in you? Do you see this as a family endeavor or a source of personal privilege?
  • What values do you share as a family? What values does/did the donor(s) represent?
  • What shared experiences, traditions, and practices have helped to define your family and will likely shape your philanthropy?
  • Why is it important to the donor and to the family that the family is involved in the foundation?
  • How do/can family members participate—even beyond the board?
  • How do younger family members become acquainted with the foundation’s work? How are they trained to take a role? How are they selected for the board or for other roles within the foundation?
  • How will issues of family—including family dynamics and interpersonal issues—be dealt with in the foundation?

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