What Works and What Doesn’t: 8 Tips for Successful Family Philanthropy

Are there any trends in successful family philanthropy? We combined advice from philanthropic expert Cynthia Strauss and Al Mueller, founder and president of Excellence in Giving, to help every family create the most positive experience possible.

What works

1. Create clear expectations and freedom to come and go

Provide a clear plan for how the family will work together and then invite children to be involved. Make it optional—not mandatory.

2. Identify and articulate shared values

Work together to describe and agree on the main objectives of your giving as a family.

3. Honor individuality and family needs

Allow your children the flexibility to go their own way if they want in choosing organizations to support.

4. Provide opportunities for active learning and meaningful work

Encourage exploration and discussion about issues that matter to the family.

5. Focus on the impact

Father and son laughing together

What doesn't work

6. Making giving mandatory

You can’t force generosity because it immediately becomes an obligation as opposed to enjoyable.

7. Dictating where the money goes

The purpose of a family philanthropy plan is to involve adult children in the decision-making process; otherwise, personal philanthropy is a better choice. There’s often an unequal level of philanthropic knowledge between parents and adult kids, and it’s frustrating when kids feel like they’re only along for the ride.

8. The “spray and pray approach”

Giving small gifts to every organization that asks throughout the year may be easier than saying “no” or agreeing on a family strategy, but giving a little bit to a lot of charities is typically not a satisfying way to see a big change. For more rewarding results, create a plan based on your family’s values and goals, then work proactively toward achieving them.

How Fidelity Charitable can help

Since 1991, we have been a leader in charitable planning and giving solutions, helping donors like you support their favorite charities in smart ways.

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