Family Philanthropy: Finding a Combined Charitable Giving Voice

A three-step process can help bring your family together on charitable giving goals.

parents and child talking

"Today, we increasingly see charitable giving bringing families together," says Beth Renner, National Director of Wells Fargo Philanthropic Services. Now, more than ever, there's a focus on true family philanthropy, where spouses or partners, as well as children, often exercise an equal voice in charitable giving decisions.

The challenge becomes how to balance the voices of numerous stakeholders, often spanning multiple generations and sometimes having competing priorities. Renner says finding a family's collective charitable giving voice may best be achieved through sound planning and carefully structured conversations.

Three-stage process

When working with clients on family philanthropy, Renner and her team take families through a three-stage process that can help them clarify their values and begin converting those into charitable giving goals.

"We first take them through an exercise called 'Generational Profiles Toolkit by 21/64,'* where we talk about each family member's formative experiences," she says. Generally, this yields some similarities, even across generations.

"In the 20th century we really developed the muscle and the beauty of charity. But I think the 21st century is not about charity, but about solidarity." — Lynne Twist, global thought leader on sustainable development

Next comes an exercise called "Picture Your Legacy™ by 21/64,"* in which family members are invited to select cards containing various images. These cards can trigger stories about what moves them emotionally and, when done right, "it reinforces the idea that philanthropy is as unique to the individual as their own DNA. But you can also hear themes emerging," says Renner.

The third stage, and result, is the creation of an Intentional Giving Plan, a two- to three-page document outlining the family's charitable giving motivations and areas of focus. It generally contains a narrative description of what wise giving might look like to the family. "Humans like structure. This is a document they can go back to," says Renner. "I call this their 'Intentional Giving Plan.'"

Once that tangible plan for family philanthropy begins taking shape, then you can select the particular vehicles for executing that strategy. These days, that's often donor advised funds, often referred to as the fastest-growing charitable vehicle. Donor advised funds offer a middle path between simply writing a check and the complications of establishing one's own family foundation, with all the financial, legal, and managerial responsibilities it can entail. Renner calls these funds "today's app for philanthropy."

A 21st century philanthropic paradigm

In one visionary's view, charity alone shouldn't be the goal. Instead, it should be about partnership between the donor and recipient.

"I'd say that in the 20th century we really developed the muscle and the beauty of charity. But I think the 21st century is not about charity, but about solidarity," says Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money and a global thought leader on sustainable development. "Solidarity meaning true partnership for a common goal."

Twist, who recently spoke at a Wells Fargo–sponsored seminar broadcast around the country, notes that the word philanthropy means "the love of mankind." And, in most families, Twist says, "I think there's a longing to serve, a longing to use the good fortune of abundant resources to make a difference in this world in a way that uplifts others."

*The Generational Profiles Toolkit and Picture Your Legacy are tools created by a non-profit philanthropic advisory firm called 21/64.

Writer John Ettorre's work has appeared in The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor. He lives in Cleveland.

What can Wells Fargo do for you?

You’re passionate about supporting worthy causes and nonprofit organizations, and Wells Fargo Conversations discusses how you can make the most of your opportunities for giving.

Wells Fargo Philanthropic Services is part of Wells Fargo Wealth Management providing financial products and services through Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and its various affiliates and subsidiaries.

This information is provided for educational and illustrative purposes only.

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