People sometimes think of charitable giving only in terms of billionaires, foundations, and corporations. However, everyday givers also can have an incredible impact, especially when they work together. One of the most effective ways to give is through a family unit. By pooling funds and getting everyone involved, parents can instill key values in younger children and push older children to remain committed to giving back as much as they can. Philanthropy is, of course, a very individualized decision and will look different for each family. However, there are some important tips families should take to heart before they team up in their giving:
1. Have a focused approach to giving
When families choose a wide range of causes to support, they limit the impact they can make. By focusing on one or two key issues, they can have a much more significant impact. Families should get together to discuss their interests and collectively come up with a focused mission statement. With this mission, the family unit can judge whether or not a particular organization falls within their parameters. Ultimately, it is better to donate to two or three organizations working on a similar issue than two or three disparate ones. A mission statement also makes it possible to step back and evaluate progress, which can lead to changes in approach years down the line.
2. Establish a philanthropy safe zone
Conversations about philanthropy within a family can become heated if ground rules are not laid out in advance. In general, it is important to designate a safe space for these conversations. In this safe space, all individuals have equal weight, regardless of their age or the amount they bring to the table. Talking about the ground rules upfront can encourage people members to participate equally in the conversation and will ultimately help improve the family dynamic. People will come with different experiences and values, but through conversation it is always possible to find some common ground through conversation. When everyone is on the same page, the entire process can be more effective.
3. Focus on local nonprofits
While it can be enticing to donate to larger foundations, these organizations often already have significant resources and are getting major donations from billionaires and major corporations. Focusing on local nonprofits can enhance the impact of family giving and make members feel more connected to the community, as they will see the impact of donations more readily. Moreover, connecting with local organizations can open opportunities for serving on the board or otherwise getting involved on the ground, as well as simply getting to know the people doing the work.
4. Take some risks
An issue that can come up in family giving is how conservative or risky to be with money. Parents are often worried about setting the wrong example for children and also concerned about having nothing to show for their efforts. However, it is important to remember that the government is limited in terms of what it can support and private investors tend to avoid, too. At the same time, finding solutions to the biggest problems facing society will require innovation. Families are in a good position to fund some of the riskier approaches to philanthropy. This can be a good lesson for younger members, especially if risks are carried out in a balanced and calculated manner.
5. Think in terms of partnership
Many philanthropists think in terms of giving, which is often due to the scope of their donations. When families collaborate on philanthropy, it can often be more helpful to think in terms of partnership, especially when supporting small, local nonprofits. Instead of coming in with solutions, ask the nonprofit how the family can be most helpful. This approach gets buy-in from all parties and teaches children the importance of collaboration. Typically, organizations will have a lot to say about how a family can make a greater impact, both in terms of supporting them and other community causes. They also will likely mention opportunities for volunteering. Approaching philanthropy as a partnership dismantles power dynamics and can often have the same effect on the family.
6. Use philanthropy to connect
In the end, family philanthropy should be fun, not stressful. As children get older, these conversations can be a great excuse for the family to get together, have a dinner, and talk about goals. Priorities change over time, so it is important to check in and determine if the mission still works for all parties. These conversations are a great time to talk about changing values and ensure everyone is on the same page. Often, these conversations make families feel much more connected than typical banter, since they speak to deeper motivations and passions.