Family Ties: How Philanthropy is Bridging the Generation Gap

11.08.2017 - Gail E. Cohen

In recognition of National Philanthropy Month, Fiduciary Trust has developed a series of conversations to help our clients make the most of their charitable contributions.

In this Q&A, Fiduciary Trust board chairwoman and General Trust Counsel Gail Cohen sits down with guest speaker Linda Franciscovich to discuss the evolution of philanthropy—how multiple generations are working together to tackle society’s most pressing challenges. Linda has been advising families on all areas of philanthropy for more than 20 years. She is executive director of the Grossman Family Foundation, president of the Berthe M. Cote Foundation, a member of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy’s board of directors and represents the philanthropic community on the Connecticut Governor’s Early Childhood Cabinet.

GAIL: Throughout our careers, we have seen philanthropy move in some interesting directions. Are there any trends taking shape today that you think are especially helpful for donors to recognize?

LINDA: One of the most significant shifts I have witnessed personally is a change in the onboarding process for new board members of family foundations. In the past, the concept was that when a child or grandchild reached a certain age, they would step in to fill the shoes of the previous generation. The foundation had a prescribed mission statement and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for younger family members to make a contribution.

Today we see foundation leaders recognizing that it is valuable for the next generation to be engaged in their family’s philanthropy and that this engagement can take many forms. In some families, there is a shift of mindset moving from “My children will step into my shoes” to “I want to provide my children with tools (i.e. best practices around good governance, financial management of foundation assets, due diligence, etc.) but I want them to have flexibility to follow their own interests.”

Some foundation boards are taking a more formal approach to the onboarding process, implementing transition periods to permit time for the next generation to help shape the future direction of a family’s philanthropy and even modifying language in the governing instrument to permit greater flexibility. It is often as important for the foundation to have younger members excited and involved in philanthropy as a practice as it is for them to step into their shoes and carry out an existing mission statement.

Family members aren’t always in the same area of the country, so many foundations are exploring ways to expand their mission to the geographic areas where new board members live and are raising their families, which extends the philanthropic legacy to yet another generation. New board members bring fresh ideas to the table and the mission evolves.

GAIL: That makes sense. Family members are more engaged when they can see the fruits of their labor.

LINDA: Exactly. Philanthropists are moving away from a passive role and becoming more active by partnering with charities. More and more, board members are lending their skills or intellectual capital to nonprofit organizations.

There is a philanthropic network called Social Venture Partners, for example, that brings together donors, nonprofits and social enterprises to make a greater philanthropic impact. SVP “investors” become part of a team that helps charitable organizations with capacity building, strategic planning and other types of technical assistance.

As you have seen, having an impact can mean so much more than contributing dollars. This active approach to giving has become much more popular as philanthropists think more like investors, looking for a measurable social return on their contributions.

GAIL: That leads me to another question about the way philanthropy is evolving. Donors always want to see measurable results. How has that changed?

LINDA: When I started working with foundations and we would go on site visits, nonprofit organizations would be proud to tell us how successful they were by offering an anecdote—something along the lines of, “Let me tell you about Johnny. This is how your contributions made a difference in his life.”

But philanthropy has progressed to the point where grantees are now asking to see evidence of an intervention’s effectiveness. In other words, a measurable outcome. We’re moving from anecdotes to outcomes. Funders want to know the impact of the investment and how cost effective it is and whether there is potential to bring it to scale.

This also means that many non-profits are making investments in infrastructure to beef-up data collection and performance measurement capabilities. The issue of cost-effectiveness brings up the topic of investing in system building as a way to effect change on a larger scale—changing behavior.

GAIL: Can you think of a foundation that has moved from programs to system building?

LINDA: One example that comes to mind is a family foundation that was funding an early intervention for infants and toddlers who are deaf and wear cochlear implants. The services provided to these children and their families through at-home visits were successful at preparing them for kindergarten, but the in-home visits were costly and visits were often missed because of illness, weather, etc. So the foundation’s board decided to fund a pilot/research project to gauge the effectiveness of using technology to provide some of the sessions.

An independent evaluation found that the tele-practice approach was not only effective and more cost-efficient, but it also improved participation rates among parents. And by collecting the proper data and being able to demonstrate its effectiveness, the organization successfully advocated for the same level of state funding as the in-person intervention.

It was a huge change in system thinking and a huge policy win. One of the great things about private philanthropy is that it can be nimble. It can drive innovation by making investments to develop new delivery models that might end up being more cost effective, serve more people and create the necessary proof point to drive policy change.

Another example of system building is a family foundation that wanted to move the needle around getting more children ready for kindergarten across an entire community. In addition to funding capacity-building in individual centers, they became involved in the community’s collective impact initiative, which identified kindergarten readiness as a key outcome. Collective impact is based on a common agenda, shared outcomes and a “backbone organization” that acts as a neutral convener to bring together all of the stakeholders in a community.

For early childhood development, stakeholders included representatives from the district school, leaders of early childhood and social service agencies, the department of public health, experts in the field and other funders—to offer a more holistic approach to the problem. Instead of helping children one center at a time they created solutions for the entire community. This is system change at the community level and it is being adopted across the country.

GAIL: What would you tell a family that is new to the world of philanthropy?

LINDA: There are basically five questions any donor should answer if his or her foundation is in it for the long run: 1. What results are we trying to achieve? 2. How can we achieve them? (It’s usually much more difficult for a single organization working independently to bring about significant changes in society.) 3. What data do we need to demonstrate progress? 4. How will each organization in our grant portfolio contribute to the goal? 5. What resources does a grantee need to accomplish these goals (think about capacity building in addition to program support).

Beyond that, I would point out that philanthropy really is like investing in many respects. Funders also have time horizons and they often see results that are better in some years than others. They also look for charities with strong fundamentals, financial discipline, strong leadership and a track record of success.

Be patient but persistent. Remember that you don’t have to go it alone.

About the Authors

Gail Cohen is chairwoman, general trust counsel and a member of Fiduciary Trust’s management and operating committees. She also serves as chair of Fiduciary Trust International of the South and has more than 30 years of experience in trusts and estates. Ms. Cohen received a J.D., summa cum laude, from Brooklyn Law School and is admitted to the bar in New York and New Jersey.

Linda Franciscovich is executive director of the Grossman Family Foundation and president of the Berthe M. Cote Foundation. She is also a member of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy’s board of directors and represents the philanthropic community on the Connecticut Governor’s Early Childhood Cabinet. She is a graduate of New York Law School and the University of Denver and is admitted to the Bar of the State of New York.

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