Family Philanthropy: Finding Values Across Generations

Generational differences within your family may be weakening your charitable impact. Here's how to uncover your shared values to do more good—together.

multigenerational women working on tablet

More and more families are seeing the importance of including multiple generations in their philanthropic plans. In a 2015 study by the National Center for Family Philanthropy, nearly three in five family foundations said that they engage younger generations in their family philanthropy plans—and more than 40 percent had plans to do so in the near future.

It makes sense: Including multiple generations of your family in your philanthropy planning can help build stronger bonds as you create a long-term legacy and help tackle some of society’s biggest challenges.

Sometimes, however, generational differences make it difficult to come together and agree on a philanthropic vision, says Beth Renner, National Director of Wells Fargo Philanthropic Services. “The different generations climbed the ladder to adulthood during different times,” she says, “and the key events happening in the world during those years influenced the way they want to give.”

For example:

  • Baby Boomers often prefer to support traditional institutions such as colleges, libraries, and religious organizations. They also like to give to well-known local or national charity organizations. Baby Boomers account for the largest share of dollars donated to charity.
  • Generation Xers lived through the Iran-Contra Affair, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and increased rates of divorce, and they may be less trusting of traditionally respected institutions. They want to know exactly when and where their money is being spent. Because many were latchkey kids, they have an independent streak.
  • Millennials have grown up in an always-connected world, and they expect data and personal stories that show their impact. Millennials also tend to live out their values in every aspect of their lives—for example, working for and purchasing goods or services from companies that are good corporate citizens.

As you build your family’s intentional giving plan, follow these four steps to help members of each generation get on the same page.

1. Talk about your values first
It’s natural to go right to “What are we going to fund?” but starting the conversation at a higher level may help head off disagreements early on, says Audrey Truman, Senior Vice President – Senior Regional Fiduciary Manager for Wells Fargo Philanthropic Services.

Ask each member of the family to share which philanthropic values they consider most important—for example, justice, empowerment, spirituality, or sustainability. Also have each person share the charities they’ve given to in the past, what challenges they want to address, and what motivates them to give. (For more, see “Your Intentional Giving Plan.”)

Including multiple generations of your family in your philanthropy planning can help build stronger bonds as you create a long-term legacy and help tackle some of society’s biggest challenges.

After everyone has shared, you will likely see some common values and goals. “Once your family becomes really grounded in what your values are, we can use that to build an intentional giving plan to make those values come to life in your philanthropy,” Renner says.

2. Explore family philanthropy strategies 
There are many different avenues for giving to charity, and it can take time to decide which ones will work for your family. Ask questions to stimulate conversation and help members of each generation to see alternative points of view. Sample questions include:

  • Which is more important to you: To support organizations you know, or causes you care about? Why? 
  • How involved do you want to be? Why? 
  • Do you believe in giving publicly or anonymously? Why? 

3. Decide on your areas of funding
Talk to your team at Wells Fargo Private Bank about building a giving plan that keeps in mind the values and giving strategies your family agreed upon. Along with providing a list of specific areas of funding to choose from, your philanthropic specialist can also help choose charities that align with your plan. Make the financials of each charity available to family members who may want to review them.

4. Incorporate the needs of all generations
As you continue to develop your family’s Intentional Giving Plan, make sure each generation’s needs are being met.

If the focus is education, for example, a Boomer could make a donation to a local college and have the family name displayed prominently. A Gen-Xer may want to launch a scholarship program that would pay for local students to attend college. And a Millennial may offer to volunteer or tutor at a local school the family is supporting. (For more nontraditional giving ideas, see “6 Alternative Ways to Give to Charity.”)

“Instead of constantly responding to requests for money, your relationship manager can help you build an Intentional Giving Plan where the areas of funding match your values,” Truman says. “That’s how you build your legacy.”

Michelle Crouch writes about consumer finance, parenting, and more from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Parents magazine, and The New York Times. Image by iStock

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Wells Fargo & Company and its affiliates do not provide legal advice. Wells Fargo Advisors does not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax and legal advisors to determine how this information may apply to your own situation. Whether any planned tax result is realized by you depends on the specific facts of your own situation at the time your taxes are prepared.

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