Our family foundation exploded
into conflict at its first meeting. The whole thing blew
up over who would be invited to my sister's graduation,
and that was that. My father and sister didn't speak for
years; the board never met again; and my father took over
total control of the foundation.
This result wasn't a big
surprise given my family's conflicted attitudes about
money. My parents are terrified of being judged as wealthy,
but they live in this enormous dream house and make large
institutional donations that get the wings of buildings
named after them. They tell me, "Don't save for retirement;
that would be ridiculous," but then get mad at me for
not saving for retirement! They fight constantly about
money because my dad wants to give away more than my mom.
My parents are both from
immigrant families that came to this country with nothing.
They lived through the Depression and the Holocaust, and
still sleep with a gun under their bed. Yet, over the
last thirty years, my dad made an unbelievable fortune
in real estate. Being successful has muted some of the
deep pain I see in him. And, even though my father is
very autocratic about the foundation, he has funded many
wonderful things--including giving half a million dollars
to an educational foundation I helped start. The extent
of family participation is that I beg and my dad decides.
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. There is neither room for
negotiating, nor changing how the foundation is run. For
all my frustration, I've learned a lot from my folks about
giving. Even before our family was wealthy, giving was
a part of the family philosophy. "You have to move the
mountain a little bit," they said, and I say the same
phrase to my eight-year-old twins. Someday I'll become
the president of our family foundation, where the bulk
of my parents' assets will go. Will I run it differently
from my dad? I'll have a board of outside experts to advise
me, that's for sure. But there's enough of him in me,
that I'll probably want to make the final decisions myself.
- anonymous author
I come from a long line
of Yankee Republicans who love the out-of-doors. When
I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a lifetime
membership in the Sierra Club. I got further interested
in conservation during the 1950's, when I worked on a
salmon fishing boat up in Alaska near the Tongas National
Forest. The Tongas is the most beautiful place I have
ever been. I naturally gravitated towards conservation
when I became president of my parents' foundation in the
late 1960's. Our primary funding area since then has been
the support of public interest litigation on conservation
My biggest labor of love,
however, has been a project to protect the Tongas that
our foundation started in 1979. We set up a public charity
called the Boat Company, bought two wooden-hulled, converted
U.S. Navy mine sweepers, and started taking influential
people up to Alaska. We've taken close to four thousand
journalists, lawyers, potential funders, conservation
leaders, and business people on over 250 cruises to this
marvelous seventeen million acre wilderness area. We're
advocates, of course, but we don't sell the place. The
place sells itself! Our crew members, who are trained
naturalists, help our passengers appreciate the value
of the area and its resources. In an unobtrusive way,
we help all our passengers understand that these spectacular
resources should be managed for long-term, not short-term,
My wife and I are looking
forward to passing on both the foundation and the Boat
Company to our three sons. Our older boys, who have worked
summers with the Boat Company, love the Tongas too. They
are already members of the Boat Company's board, and will
join the Foundation's board at our next annual meeting.
I like to think that my
efforts will live on after me, but I want to let our children
chart their own course with the foundation. My parents
didn't burden the future by placing restrictions on the
foundation. My wife and I, and my brother, who has worked
with me from the beginning, feel the same way. We'll let
our heirs decide what's needed. Times change. Society's
needs might be very different after we're gone. That's
for our sons to decide.
I don't foresee any big
conflicts among us, even during the period when our children
serve on the board along with my wife and me. We're pretty
confident that there will be enough money for them to
follow their own inclinations, even funding things their
mother and I are not so interested in, without jeopardizing
the foundation's continued giving to our longstanding
- anonymous author
Our family's charitable
trust has always welcomed younger family
members onto the board. I joined at age eighteen, and
my cousin Abby came on when she was thirteen. We were
told, "If you read all the proposals and know what you're
talking about, you'll be given as much respect as the
rest of us."
At age twenty-six, I started
to make waves. It was the early 1980's, and more and more
people in the U.S. were working to end apartheid in South
Africa. A key strategy was to ask companies to adhere
to a set of anti-racist principles. Companies who didn't
voluntarily adopt these "Sullivan Principles" were being
divested from university endowments, municipal pension
funds, and were subject to shareholder resolutions which
opened the issue to a public vote among stockholders.
When I learned that my
family's company was facing such
a shareholder resolution, I went to the shareholders meeting
and spoke in favor of adopting the resolution to sign
the Sullivan Principles. The resolution was voted down,
but instead of giving up, I encouraged the organizers
of the resolution to bring it up again at the next shareholders
meeting. I figured that since the trust fund owned a
considerable number of shares of my family's company,
if I could persuade the other board members to vote our
shares in favor of the Sullivan Principles, maybe we could
My father, uncle, and grandfather
were still involved in the company's management. From
their perspective, I was being disrespectful and unappreciative.
After all, their efforts had built an enterprise that
had created wealth and freedom for several generations
of the family. They felt personally attacked by criticism
of the company's practices. When I asked to be put on the
agenda for the next shareholder meeting, they retorted,
"What do you know about the Sullivan Principles?! We advise
you not to talk about something you know nothing about."
Their challenge spurred
me to find out every damn thing I could about the Sullivan
Principles in the following six months. I was determined
to do all I could to overthrow apartheid, even if it meant
upsetting other people in my family. The more I learned,
the more clear it was to me that the company had a moral
mandate to adopt the principles.
The night before the next
shareholders meeting, I gathered family members together
at our ranch in Colorado, showed them a movie about South
Africa, and opened a discussion about apartheid and the
Sullivan Principles. I explained that adopting the principles
wouldn't cost the company a great deal of money, because
it already adhered to many guidelines such as having decent
wages and a lot of black managers. The company would,
however, have to change some relatively low-cost things
such as segregated bathrooms.
I argued, "At the trust fund, we claim to care about the rights of oppressed people.
How can we be trying to heal oppression through the family's
foundation, while profiting from it through the family's
business? Tomorrow, at the meeting, let us each claim
our voting power and vote our conscience!"
It was an intense night.
I was crying. My uncle wasn't talking to me. I felt the
questions hovering in the air: Can we live with each other?
Can we love each other? The conflicts I had uncovered
felt like they might destroy our family's ability to work
The next day, the stockholders
meeting voted by a wide margin to adopt the Sullivan Principles.
After the vote, my uncle complained to the gathered family,
"Why are you picking on the company? What about all the other
companies in the trust's portfolio? By that he meant,
"Leave us alone!" But many others in my family took it
as an invitation to insist on higher ethical standards
for all the trusts' investments!
When I look back on that
day, I don't feel that I won, but rather, our whole family
won. Had we stopped where we were all comfortable, we
wouldn't have grown much. Instead, we struggled together,
and through it gained respect for each other. Even my
uncle has come around. I recently overheard him boasting
how the trust fund helped our highly traditional and
successful investment firm develop into a leader in the
field of socially responsible investment.
When I waged that campaign,
I felt urgent about responding immediately to injustice.
Young people are like that: injustice hurts in their bodies.
It doesn't hurt in my body that way anymore. I don't judge
the impulses of either stage of life as right or wrong;
it's just that being older, I understand that the struggle
for change never stops and I pace myself for a lifetime.
If a twenty-year-old came into the foundation today and
challenged me on my moral right to lead, I would probably
get defensive. But we all need young people to push us
on. My son Sebastian, who is nine, may join the trust fund in a couple of years, and I bet he'll be challenging
it before long.
- anonymous author
Our family owned timberland
and saw mills back in 1855. The company is still entirely
family-owned, but it has evolved into a holding company
that is actively invested in four businesses in disparate
fields. There are now more than 300 descendants, or family
"shareholders"--many of whom are, or were, active in some
way with the company and the three family foundations.
Every January, each shareholder
gets a listing of the board and committee positions opening
up. Those interested apply and are selected by nominating
committees. More than sixty family members serve on various
boards and volunteer committees every year. Unlike some
family companies and foundations I hear about, we have
been besieged by family members in their teens and twenties
who want to become more involved. This interest didn't
"just happen." It is a direct result of the capital investment
we have been making for over twenty years in our family
and its youth.
For instance, our annual
meeting is four to five days long. Last year, nearly 230
shareholders attended. For the younger people, we run
a full-blown camp program, which just last year involved
sixty children and twenty teenagers. Every year we ask
a local group or Chamber of Commerce, "Got any useful
project that a hundred or so people could do for a day?"
We then work together to help build trails or clean up
trash--whatever is useful.
We also have many year-round
programs for family shareholders. These include:
An Internship Program
to help family members
in high school and college find jobs in their field
An Education Assistance Program
to offer family members
partial reimbursement for continuing education tuition.
In return, the student agrees to be "on call" to the
company for three years to give advice or assistance.
A Shareholder-Directed Charitable Contributions
to enable stockholders to direct company profits to the
charitable organizations of their choice, based on a
yearly-calculated amount-per-share. Last year just under
$200,000 was given through this program.
An Associate Opportunity Fund
to allow shareholders
who want to start their own businesses to apply for
A Loan Program
to let shareholders
borrow against their stock as if it were a publicly-traded
security (because privately-owned stock provides so
A Quarterly Publication
edited by a different
family member each time, published by the family office
to keep communication flowing among our far-flung members.
We don't hammer away at
our young people that they "should" be philanthropic or
successful at business. What we try to get across is simply
this: you are welcome here. Whether you are involved or
not, you belong. We honor you for your unique characteristics,
whether a wigged-out musician, an earnest business major,
or a six year old.
We're here for you when
you decide you want to come.
- anonymous author
Under the Radar
I know it sounds cynical,
but in some wealthy families the attitude seems to be:
"whichever family member can't tie his shoes, give 'em
a foundation." Decisions made at a family foundation don't
threaten the family's source of wealth, and who's to say
any one grant is better than another? The philanthropists
in the family are humored.
This is not a stereotype
I appreciate. As an achievement-oriented, ex-management
consultant and investor who became the paid, full-time
president of my great aunt's foundation about ten years
ago, I beg to differ. I've tried to bring the same aggressive
tough-mindedness to our family's giving as other family
members bring to the act of generating wealth. At first,
my father was skeptical of my pursuing philanthropy as
a career, but now he is my biggest supporter.
At the time of my great
aunt's death, the foundation was barely off the ground.
We had no giving record or focus, so I had to shape the
vision from the ground up. We could have just sat back
and waited for proposals to come in as some family foundations
do--the "letter openers" I call them--but I wanted the
foundation to be more proactive.
One of the first programs
we devised was an annual scholar/golfer award for collegiate
women. My great aunt was on the cover of
1923 as the winner of the national women's golf championship.
The award, located at the Women's Golf Hall of Fame, is
now regarded as one of the top three awards for collegiate
women golfers. With this one program, we get to promote
both scholarship and athletic ability, give my great aunt
the recognition she deserves, and do something of sentimental
value. My great aunt would have been proud.
To make a difference at
a national level, the board decided on the environment
and population as our areas of focus; ones we felt my
great aunt would have supported had she been alive. Soon
after we began grantmaking, however, I realized that these
issues were way too general for us, so we explored ways
to narrow our focus. I call this the "Three Bears Theory
of Giving"--investigate different program areas until
you find the one that works for you (and your board of
directors, of course). Ours turned out to be conserving
marine fisheries--something my great aunt (who loved fishing)
would certainly have approved. No one we knew was working
on this issue at the time and it was an area that needed
a lot of help.
The trick to success was
to be creative. We've initiated matching grants, promoted
joint ventures between groups, convinced other foundations
to co-venture with us, and I have served on boards of
national environmental groups--all the time "gently" pushing
a marine conservation agenda. Hard sell doesn't work well
in this business. Our foundation even published a newsletter
on conservation that we distributed to over 1,900 foundations
and environmental organizations. If you are passionate
and focused, people start to follow your lead and seek
your advice. After about nine years of working with groups
to create and develop marine conservation programs, we
feel we've made a major impact. There are now marine/fisheries
programs at about eight of the ten biggest environmental
organizations, which are supported by a growing number
Many of my colleagues in
the philanthropy world underestimate what they can accomplish
with a small family foundation. My experience has shown
that we are only limited by our own creativity and risk
taking ability. As they say, it's not what you have (to
give), it's what you do with it. We are the venture capitalists
of giving. We can fly under the radar and take the risk
of supporting innovative programs that the big foundations
can't touch--yet. Foundations our size, with assets between
$10 and $50 million dollars, can hit the beaches first,
help build the needed infrastructure, and then call in
the big guns once the projects we support are proven viable.
Believe me, it works.
- anonymous author
Our family foundation sat
on the shelf for a couple of years before we got it rolling.
We didn't have a staff, a giving plan, or even regular
meetings. We hadn't even made any grants.
Four years ago, when I
was working at Greenpeace, I began to see our foundation
as an opportunity just waiting to happen. I told everybody
in my family that I would be willing to serve as a full-time
program officer and president if they backed my vision
of what we could accomplish. I pushed two ideas. First,
I didn't want to go the traditional charity route. I wanted
to support activist groups working on environmental health,
social and economic justice, and community empowerment.
Second, I didn't want the foundation to go on forever.
I didn't propose a firm ending date, but I wanted us to
give away principal as well as income while our foundation
still had focus and energy. Happily, my mother and all
my siblings agreed, perhaps because no one else had the
time or interest to get our foundation up and running!
My mom, who is from the
old school of philanthropy, has become increasingly excited
about what I am trying to do. What influenced her wasn't
talking with me, or reading the material I sent her. It
was coming with me to the Louisiana Environmental Action
Network, an organizing group working with many African-American
communities fighting for their survival along Louisiana's
"Cancer Alley," perhaps the most polluted stretch along
the entire Mississippi River.
There, my mom learned what
this fertile land had been like before the chemical and
oil companies built plants nearby, and heard how the fields
don't produce crops anymore. There are fewer species of
fish in the river, and children are being born with deformities,
and older people are increasingly dying of cancer and
other diseases--at rates higher than almost anywhere else
in the country. My mother saw the people's poverty first
hand, and marveled at their courage in taking on some
of the most powerful corporations in the world--all of
whom were trying to avoid responsibility, or any future
restrictions on their operations.
Any vestige of the "blame-the-victim"
thinking drummed into the heads of the privileged vanished
for my mother during those conversations in Louisiana.
In a big turn-around, she has been an ardent advocate
of funding corporate accountability campaigns ever since.
- anonymous author
Legacy of Service
My great grandfather was
a brilliant businessman who never lost sight of the need
to serve God and our community. In 1892, he used a portion
of his assets to found a newspaper called
The paper, and its nonprofit arm Afro-Charities, has been
our family's major means of contributing to Baltimore's
African-American community ever since. My grandfather
used to say, the mission of our paper is to "lift up the
little man and champion the cause of our people."
The paper has always been
a family effort. When my great grandfather died, most
of his ten children worked for the paper in some capacity.
In 1934, my great-aunt founded a program at the paper
called Clean Block. She worked very hard to bring together
neighborhood volunteers and city workers every year to
clean up Baltimore's inner-city residential areas. In
the 1950's, another great-aunt started a program at the
newspaper called Mrs. Santa, which has distributed toys,
food, and household supplies to poor families around the
As the current president
of the paper, I have continued both of these programs.
I've also tried to maintain another family tradition:
employing people who might not have the chance for employment
elsewhere. I remember what an impression it made on me
as a little girl when my grandfather hired an ex-convict
to be his chauffeur. He told me that the dignity of a
job can turn people's lives around. Many of our workers
eventually move on, once they have learned a marketable
skill and developed a successful job record. We see this
as part of our work, and just start training someone new.
Not all of my great grandfather's
descendants work at the paper now, but the paper is still
the bedrock, the legacy of service, that we all draw on.
We were raised to give back, to be community leaders,
to be known for our service and not for our wealth. It
breaks my heart when I hear about successful African Americans
who turn their backs on their community. Do they really
think their success is theirs alone?
These days, our family
is more spread out than ever before. Yet, at family gatherings,
when I am talking to siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews,
aunts, and uncles, I am struck by how deep the commitment
to service runs in our family. We all volunteer, many
of us tithe ten percent of our income to our churches,
and several of us serve on the boards of colleges and
Like my grandfather, I
serve on the board of Morgan State University. I am also
an associate minister at my church, and I recently chaired
a campaign by the Baltimore United Way to increase on-the-job
giving at black-owned businesses. This level of public
service is nothing unusual in my family. In fact, I am
far less active than my mother. She's all over the place!
- anonymous author
Dream Come True
After years of deeply-satisfying
work as President of a successful foundation,
I am now in the midst of our most exciting adventure yet.
We have embarked on a journey aimed at turning over all
of the foundation's assets to a new entity, which is being
created by a group of eighteen grassroots leaders from
the rural Southeast.
Our family foundation began
back in 1984. My mother had Alzheimer's, I was an only
child, and my father had died twenty years earlier, leaving
my mother and me a substantial inheritance of United Parcel
Service stock. My two daughters and I had trusts that
more than covered our needs. Establishing a family foundation
seemed wise: it saved fifty percent in estate taxes (not
to mention capital gains), and provided a way to hold
the assets until we could learn how to do effective grantmaking.
I knew nothing about foundations,
but I had learned two important things from years of working
with farmworker organizations: real solutions to community
problems can only come from the people of that community;
and the best grantmaking decisions require participation
of grantee community leaders. From the start, we were
determined to develop a grantmaking process to share decision-making
power as well as wealth. The majority of the board has
always been non-family members, elected by family members
annually. We developed an enduring focus of supporting
community organizing in the rural South.
Although one of my daughters
and two cousins have served with me on the board over
the years, I have been the constant driving family force
for more than a dozen years. About three years ago I began
to get restless, muttering to other board members that
I wanted more time for my own personal interests and for
my grandchildren. A former board chair proposed an unusual
solution: "Why not turn the foundation over to the only
people we know who could do an even better job than us...
'the real experts'... our grantee partners?" I loved the
idea immediately, even though he explained it would be
a minimum five-year process requiring substantial time
and energy from our partners, and the foundation's commitment
to training and capacity-building.
We chose eighteen of our
finest grantee-partners, on the basis of each individual's
integrity, experience, skills, ability to be a team player,
commitment to social justice over and above their own
organization, and yes, heart. We also considered diversity
in terms of race, gender, age, geography, and sexual identity.
Invitations were extended to spend a weekend in Cocoa
Beach, Florida at our expense, "to give the foundation
input on our future directions."
In the middle of the meeting,
I got impatient and announced that the real reason we
brought them together was to see if they'd be willing
to create a new entity, which would be owned and operated
by Southern grassroots community leaders after a five
year transition process. They were astounded. We said,
"Don't decide now. Would you be willing to meet together
three more times over the next year, and decide then?"
Each one said yes.
While the foundation board
members knew and respected the eighteen participants,
many of them did not know each other. The foundation's
grantee partners have always been about eighty percent
African-American; thus, so was this group, with about
twenty percent from Latino, Native American, and European-American
communities. Building trust among us all took time.
We selected Jane Sapp,
a highly-respected and long-time Southern cultural organizer
and recording artist to serve as the group's cultural
facilitator. Culture is the glue Jane has used to pull
the grantee leadership group together. Culture, in the
words of the participants, "brings out things that are
in us we don't always express... makes us cohesive and
clears away the debris of the dominant culture so we can
relate to each other as we are... finds our connecting
points... loosens the tension." In Jane's words, "It ain't
WHAT you do, it's the WAY you do it."
That first year, we spent
a full day of each weekend meeting getting to know each
other. Jane would ask the group questions, for example,
"How do we build a building that will stand the test of
time? (We broke into small groups and drew buildings)...
"What seasoning does each person represent to you (salt,
pepper, nutmeg, garlic)? Why?"
Between meetings, group
members have supported one another during crises. With
trust like this, the group makes decisions quickly and
shoulders challenges without coming apart. Participants
say: "I feel like family here... This is like coming home."
In years past, I cried
when I thought about turning the foundation over to someone
else. But no longer. This transition has been a powerful
process. My dream for this foundation is coming true...
- anonymous author
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