Transmitting Values through Family Giving
Including your children and grandchildren in your philanthropic plan provides opportunities to impart values and foster healthy family dynamics, says family foundation consultant Judith Stern Peck.
When it comes to family philanthropy, Judith Stern Peck leads by example. Peck is the director of the Family Wealth, Family Life project of the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City, an organization dedicated to promoting healthy family functioning and family mental health. It’s a mission she takes personally: A proud grandmother, Peck has established a Grandparent’s Fund for each of her ten grandchildren through the Jewish Communal Fund in New York. She makes annual deposits on behalf of each of her grandchildren on their birthdays—and when her oldest grandchild turns 10, she plans to open a discussion with all the grandchildren about where these funds might be directed.
Peck is a major proponent of shaping values through philanthropy. For philanthropists, she says, “It’s no longer just about where you give or how much, but how you give and how you involve your children in the process.” As the concept of family philanthropy grows in popularity, Peck says the endeavor offers opportunities for parents to raise charitable, socially aware children. She says philanthropy can be employed as a means as well as an end in helping to convey the meaning of giving to even the youngest children. She advocates teaching them from the time they are tiny tots, using relevant, concrete, developmentally appropriate causes such as bringing toys to a homeless shelter.
To leverage philanthropy in this manner, however, requires deliberate planning and effort─as well as soul searching and open communication between parents. Children are quick to pick up any hint of conflict, so it is important for parents or grandparents to reconcile any differences privately. “If there is any undercurrent of tension, a child will have difficulty absorbing the desired message,” she says.
Peck’s program for utilizing the power of philanthropy to reflect and promote family values involves six distinct steps as follows:
1. Clarify the Philanthropic Intent
The first is for parents to clarify their individual core values and passions. “Before we can effectively transmit a value, we must be able to articulate it,” Peck observes. Do they want to pass on to their children a sense of responsibility to others? Defining a list of values is something that the group at Ackerman has been working on with numerous couples.
2. Find the Common Thread in Values
There needs to be a serious discussion to tease out similarities and differences in these core values. Compare and prioritize the lists. If transmitting a philanthropic value is important, then the stage is set to proceed. These two steps may be easier said than done. Enlisting the assistance of a family wealth advisor may help make this process more efficient and less emotionally charged.
3. Apply Values to Philanthropy
The next step is to consciously apply this intelligence to the practice of family philanthropy as a means of transmitting those values. “In this instance, the legacy you are transmitting is about social responsibility and community service,” Peck explains. “As your children grow and mature, they will later be better able to understand the particular choices you have made for philanthropy.” Taking your children to a shelter to distribute clothing or having them volunteer at an animal adoption fair is a concrete example of this.
4. Define Shared and Individual Giving
Depending on the ages of the children, the next step is to catalog shared and individual ways of giving. Investigate programs sponsored by local religious institutions, the community and the child’s school.
The entire family can participate in projects such as cooking in a soup kitchen or painting a shelter. But it’s also important for parents to pursue their own individual charitable interests, and encourage the children to follow their own. Then, ongoing family conversations about these experiences reinforce and enhance the collective as well as individual benefits.
5. Establish the Family Giving Plan
Another dimension is added by instigating collaboration and joint decision making. Peck suggests starting a family fund, with each child contributing a portion of his or her allowance, matched or doubled by a parental contribution. “When enough has accumulated, gather the family to discuss how to allocate it,” says Peck. “Developing an overall objective and then seeking a program to accommodate it will engage the family in a shared process and help them learn about values-based decision making.”
6. Follow Through
The last step is to make a real commitment to this process, follow it consistently and make sure that it is periodically readjusted to be age-appropriate. Young children require concrete, repetitive activities with a clear communication of the rationale. Peck proposes saying, for example, “We are giving this food because there are people who don’t have enough money to buy their own food.” Philanthropy can be modeled for children as young as age two up through adolescence, she asserts.
Even for those who have not previously engaged in charitable activities as a family, it’s never too late, and benefits will flow accordingly. “Our research indicates that the more conscious parents are of what they want to transmit, the more successful they will be,” Peck notes. And it follows that children who are introduced to philanthropy in this manner will then seek to transmit this value on to their own children, on through the generations.
Mary Lowengard is a freelance writer based in New York City.
Copyright 2005 Community Foundations of America
Used with permission