Philanthropy is born out of passion and opportunity – the passion to make a difference and the opportunity to make it happen. The inspirations behind the passion, however, are highly individual.
You may have been inspired by something deeply personal, a story you have shared with very few people. Or your inspiration may be found in your family’s or business’s history, or in a singular experience you encountered somewhere along the way.
If you are thinking about ensuring your philanthropy becomes an enduring legacy, there are numerous financial and legal questions to consider. But before you do, you may need to start closer to home. Think about your inspiration and ask a critical question:
How well do the younger and rising generations know the story behind your story?
Part of creating a legacy means asking new generations to pick up the torch. Are they ready, willing, and emotionally able to pick up what you’ve started? What do they know about your deeper mission and how willing are you to let them put their stamp on it? Are there obstacles or new inspirations ahead?
Here are a few questions to consider you, your legacy, and the next generations:
Have you spoken to the younger and rising generations about the reasons behind your philanthropy?
It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming “everybody” knows the origin story of your family’s philanthropy.
You may have discussed it with your children when it was launched, but have you talked about it to their children, the rising generation whose participation may be critical to carrying on the legacy? Even family members who have grown up with the family’s philanthropic activities may have an incomplete understanding of why you have chosen a particular effort.
Even if the younger generations know a great deal about the causes you’re championing, the “why” may not be obvious. One of the most powerful approaches to take with the rising generation is to involve them in an event or a “hands on” project. Younger people place a value on experiences. Helping build housing, organizing a holiday food drive, or tutoring students can be tangible and inspiring.
How open are you to new ideas?
The rising generation has grown up in a very different world than you. It’s not simply obvious differences, such as technology, social media, and the many ways they interact with their peers – although those differences can be profound. It’s also possible that if you are the first generation of your family to acquire wealth, your children and grandchildren may have grown up in substantially more affluent circumstances.
The combination of social change and personal circumstances may mean that the rising generation may have very different emotional responses to the challenges you want to address. They may be drawn to different aspects of the problem or have very different ideas about fund raising, creating awareness, or how to carry on your mission. Be honest with yourself about how willing you are to listen to and discuss new possibilities.
As you listen to your granddaughter, for example, you may be excited about her new ideas on how to carry your work forward. Or you may be skeptical about whether she genuinely grasps the issue. It’s entirely possible that you will feel at the same time, which underscores the potential strength of intergenerational cooperation during the transition.
What’s important, however, is preparing yourself for the possibilities of allowing change in exchange for the active participation of younger generations.
What do you consider critical to maintain?
Any transition in the structure and leadership of your philanthropy will involve change. The source may be the personalities, capabilities, or focus of the family members you ask to assume leadership. Or it may be driven by legal, financial, or social change. Try as you may, it’s impossible to foresee all the potential changes and evolutions.
What you can do is take the time to ask yourself what you consider essential. What is the heart of your philanthropy or the core principles or activities you cannot imagine it without? By gaining renewed clarity about your passion and the possibilities, you can take steps to codify and communicate what you most want preserved as your family navigates the transition.
Finally, what are the alternatives?
There are a wide range of financial and legal structures for your legacy and foundations. There are also choices to be made about ongoing leadership, including appointing a family member as a successor or creating an independent board with some level of family participation – and many variations in between.
These decisions should not be made in isolation, however. They may be shaped by or in response to the three questions above. While it may be disconcerting, it is also an opportunity to revisit the inspiration, passion, and opportunity that first created your philanthropy, and find new ways to connect the younger and rising generations to the make a difference in the world.
We’re here to help!
Lido’s Philanthropic Consulting Services is prepared to guide you through the development and transitions of your Philanthropy. In addition to our substantial in-house capabilities, we also have extensive connections to many people in the philanthropic community who are willing to share their experiences.