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Five Philanthropy Mistakes Families Make

By Jillian Wagenheim


Family philanthropy is an incredible way to instill values, strengthen family bonds, share passions and build a legacy.  However, even a road paved with good intentions can be fraught with issues.

Below are five common mistakes that families often make when engaging in multi-generational philanthropy.

  1. They don’t see it as a process.

Family philanthropy should not be single event.  Families often think that the act of allocating is the most important part, when truly it’s the process that takes place leading up to the granting where the magic happens.

  1. They don’t create a safe space.

All families have patterns of behavior and dynamics that play out as part of the family system.  Establishing rules for conduct ensures that unhealthy patterns remain outside of these family discussions.

  1. They haven’t defined their purpose.

Many families operate without a mission statement or even a clear idea as to what they hope to accomplish through this process.  As prominent New York family business attorney Roy Kozupsky states, “Successful families who have sustained not only their wealth and their cultural fabric, but who have also cultivated the next generation of leaders, have a number of things in common, including 1) a clear sense of family vision and purpose, and 2) a shared sense of the family’s wealth and how that is shared with their community through their philanthropic values and activities.”

  1. They focus on causes rather than values.

Many parents hope their children will find joy in giving to the same places that they give to and, therefore, put the focus on organizations rather values.  Families who are successful in cultivating the joy of giving allow the next generation to explore what is important to them and build their own philanthropic identity through shared family values.

  1. They ignore generational differences.

We are the sum of our experiences.  How we see the world is shaped in many ways including through a generational lens.  Understanding generational personalities and perspectives is important part of engaging in multigenerational philanthropy.

As philanthropist Charles Bronfman has said, “Philanthropy is where the soul meets the business plan.” Give with your heart and be intentional about how you do it.

If you would like to learn more about intentional and meaningful family philanthropy, please contact Jillian Wagenheim at Sertus Consulting: jillian@sertusconsults.com or 404.272.7555