have always adored the process of thoughtful grantmaking:
how it brings me rare and encouraging news about people
doing impressive work, and propels me to think critically
about how change happens. Years ago, to learn more about
grantmaking I set up a small family foundation with $300,000
and invited my wife and two trusted friends to join the
board. The four of us defined funding areas, and took
risks to support start-up organizations with innovative
Some of these groups flourished
and some failed. As a board, we became increasingly impressed
by how much work is required to do thoughtful funding.
Engrossed in other commitments, none of us had the energy
to do site visits and follow-up evaluations, and we felt
uncomfortable continuing to give grants without them.
After six fruitful but humbling grantmaking cycles, we
decided unanimously to give the remaining assets to a
nonprofit organization and put the fund to rest.
This brief taste of grantmaking
left me curious about the giving of other families. Families
have many ways to model, teach, and influence each other's
financial generosity. Some never mention their giving,
considering it either tactless or uninteresting as a topic
of discussion. For others, a longstanding tradition of
philanthropy forms the core of family identity. In some
families, people simply discuss their independent giving
choices as a way to learn about each others' interests
and concerns; other families sit down together at holiday
times, with children young or grown, and do charitable
Whatever form they use,
families who give together encounter challenges: of unity
and divisiveness, of power and belonging, of honoring
the elders while making way for the next generations.
This issue of
More than Money
issues by exploring the complex territory of family foundations.
While the term "family foundation" commonly refers to
a type of private foundation or a charitable trust (each
defined by tax laws) the term itself has no set legal
definition. Here, we use the term family foundation broadly,
to mean any formal, ongoing structure for family giving.
We hope the stories in this issue will inspire all our
readers--those who are part of family foundations and
those who are not--to think about their family's giving,
and to help it become more intentional, strategic and
fulfilling for all involved.
In the past fifteen years,
the number of private foundations in the U.S. has doubled to over 40,000,
with three-quarters of these estimated to be family foundations.
Cynics sometimes call family foundations "sugar-coated
tax shelters," and are quick to point out that more families
are ushered into philanthropy by tax savings rather than
by love of humanity. But sometimes, even in those instances,
family foundations metamorphose over time into something
wondrous: a compelling reason to bring far-flung family
members together; a medium in which the family can create
and express a commitment to service, generosity, or justice;
and a context in which family members get to meet extraordinarily
talented people from various fields, and develop partnerships
which leave a caring and lasting legacy for the common
--Christopher Mogil, for
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