Involving the Next Generation in Philanthropy

Different methods are utilized to help younger family members learn about philanthropy and build an understanding of what their family’s foundation does and why. There are many informal approaches that can help younger family members learn about philanthropy, but family foundations often look for more formal ways to engage them in the foundation. Some of these approaches include:

Foundation board meetings: Family foundation board meetings can include the next generation. Younger family members can attend as observers or be encouraged to ask questions, share opinions and discuss grant requests even though they are non-voting. Alternatively, younger family members may be invited to attend a part of the board meeting that is geared toward issues and requests that are of most interest to them. Some foundations create a separate board called an auxiliary board for younger family members to meet and decide on allocating a sum of money set aside for them. 

Committee membership: Younger family members can be invited to be members of board committees to learn more about how the foundation functions. Committees may focus on foundation investments, a specific contributions area or other aspects of philanthropy that might engage younger family members. 

Foundation training: The foundation can support training opportunities for members of the next generation by paying for their participation in workshops or conferences offered by associations of foundations or other organizations.

Participating in site visits: By visiting applicant or grantee organizations, younger family members get first-hand view of what these organizations do. They gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the foundation’s work and the issues addressed by the foundation.

Electronic participation: It’s increasingly common for board members who live in a different geography than the customary foundation meeting locale to participate in the foundation’s work electronically. These methods may include Skype, e-mail, board-only portals and private message boards.

Set-aside for next generation members: Family foundations can reserve a specific dollar amount for each younger member to distribute as they see fit. Sometimes there is a requirement that the funds go to support an issue area that aligns with the foundation’s work; in other cases, younger family members are given complete discretion in selecting recipient organizations.

Matching funds: This approach is similar to a set-aside, but an investment from the younger person is required before the foundation makes a contribution. The investment may be in the form of dollars donated or in volunteer time provided to an organization. In either case, the foundation provides a grant to match the family member’s investment.

Internships: The board may establish a series of activities that younger family members must engage in to be eligible for board service, such as serving on the board of a nonprofit, attending a training session for new foundation board members or making a specified number of site visits.

Orientation: Before serving on the foundation’s board, a committee or an auxiliary board, younger members may be encourage to attend a session about the foundation’s mission, history, structure, culture and grantmaking.

There are a variety of ways that younger generations can be involved in a family foundation’s work. Every foundation is unique and should employ an approach that aligns with the organization’s work as well as individuals’ interests and capacity for involvement. Foundations that find a way to involve younger generations have a better chance of thriving for years to come.