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Training the next generation for generosity

I had the privilege of attending the first FoundationWiseSM conference at Focus on the Family the week before last.

FoundationWiseSM is meant to help people who “own” and operate private foundations to do a better job.

As I looked at the various workshops available for participants, it seemed to me that there were to primary tracks: one having to do with succession planning–passing on the vision and purpose to the next generation, and one having to do, more, with success on the “business” end of things–keeping good corporate records, ensuring your within the bounds of the law, investing successfully, and so forth. I followed the “succession planning” track.

One of the key questions I hoped to answer had to do with passing responsibility to the next generation: How can I know that they will carry on pursuing a vision that I would want them to pursue? Put another way: if I’m leaving them significant funds for charitable purposes, how can I ensure that they won’t take those funds and potentially turn them to uses possibly diametrically opposed to those for which I would have given them?

I mean, it is so common for nonprofits to wind up doing things very differently than their founders intended!

Intermixed in this larger question: How do we encourage our children in the ways of generosity?I thought some of the answers were very insightful. Here are some of the things that people suggested (not necessarily in order):

  • Give the kids some money for them to determine where it should go. Perhaps . . .

    • x for children from 6 to 11 years old.
    • 2x for children from 12 to 17.
    • 4x for children 18 to 21 years old.
  • Offer to match whatever the children (even adult children) determine to give.

    • Perhaps on a one-for-one basis up to a certain limit.
    • Or perhaps, even, on a multiples-to-one basis up to a certain limit. (One family, we were told, has a standing offer by the parents to match whatever their children give on a 10-to-one ratio: “You [children] give $100; we [parents] will match your donation 10-to-one, so we will donate $1,000 to the same cause.”
  • If you have a family foundation, invite the children to participate in the board (i.e., giving decision) meetings. Maybe you don’t give them voting rights, but let them sit in on the meetings as advisors.

    • Listen carefully to what they say.
    • Ask questions about their suggestions.
    • Once more: Listen carefully to what they say . . . and interact with them.
    • Recognize that you are involved in a mentoring/discipling process.

      [I was quite taken by one story someone told about a certain pastor who would engage his young (at the point of this story, 7-year-old) son in conversations about matters he himself was dealing with. One day he told his son about a woman in the church who was driving him absolutely bonkers. He maintained confidentiality and did not reveal enough for the boy to know who, specifically, he was talking about. But he brought the boy in deeply enough that he could feel and understand the gravity of what was taking place in his father's life.

      "What do you think I should do in the situation?" the father asked.

      "I'd kill her," said the boy.

      Obviously, the father was not about to take his son's advice! But by engaging the boy in the matter at hand, this father was able to understand his son's thought processes and help guide and direct him toward more fruitful ways of looking at the world and handling problems that might come his way. the father knew he had many years ago before his son might face the same kind of issues he he faced as a pastor, but already, he was shaping his son's way of thinking.

      The person who told the story intended--and I recognized--that this story should illustrate how we can teach our children through the years. We have time . . . if we will use it wisely. We don't have to "worry" about how our kids will turn out or how they will use whatever resources we pass on to them . . . if we studiously and deliberately train them over the years.]

  • When appropriate (i.e., when they have proven themselves capable), give them true grant-making responsibility within the family foundation–or, if you don’t have a foundation, over some portion of the family’s charitable giving.
  • Rather than put them in charge of a portion of the family’s larger charitable endeavors, set up donor advised funds (or sub-funds) for each one. (One advantage of a DAF with an organization like the National Christian Foundation, if you are of a Christian worldview: though the organization gives great leeway in the causes for which gifts can be given, its bylaws preclude it from giving to charities that are antithetical to Christian values. –If you are concerned that one of your children would prefer to give to a charity whose purposes may be antithetical to yours, this little “safety” feature may help you sleep at night . . . and, possibly, preserve you from having to “argue” your position with an antagonistic son or daughter.

Besides these suggestions for direct participation in giving, one of our workshop leaders suggested,

  • Involve future generations in any discussions you have concerning the design of your Family (or Family Foundation) Stewardship Philosophy.
  • Participate as a family in volunteer service with one of the charities you support.
  • Sponsor your children in volunteer service with one of the charities you support.
  • Go with your children on visits to charity service centers. Observe what the charity is doing.
  • Send your children on such visits. Charge them with acquiring important information necessary for your family to make informed choices about the charities it will support.
  • Encourage and enable the next generation to review your family’s estate or legacy plans. Help them understand how these plans affect the family and the family’s charitable endeavors. . . .

Any ideas you’d like to add?

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