Summit on Philanthropy and the Role of the Family Enterprise


This week I've had the honour and privledge of leading a day-long summit on philanthropy alongside Deborah Goldstein, Enlightened Philanthropy and John A. Warnick of the Purposeful Planning Institute.  This summit covered five key areas within the giving space and drew upon expertise from the likes of Bruce Deboskey, Tracy Gary and Joanie Bronfman.

In addition to philanthropy advisors like myself and those mentioned above, we also had representatives from well-established large charities including the Weizmann Institute and the YMCA of North America, providing their perspectives from the recipient point of view.  

Obviously, a discussion about philanthropy would not be complete without the donors alongside their financial and legal advisors (or as the industry as deemed Trusted Advisor).  Firms represented ranged from boutique wealth management agencies in the mid-west to major investment houses like Fidelity and Ascent.

The impetus for this summit was the fact that in 2000 US Trust released a study on the relationship between advisors and clients and their roles in the philanthropy conversation.  In 2013 (a copy is attached to this blog) they revisited this study and found that there had been no significant changes in how Trusted Advisors were engaging their clients in the social capital and philanthropy discussions.  As someone who has built her business around working with advisors and their clients in developing and implementing strategic giving plans, I felt it was important to identify what the needs of the market are so that I, and others in my field, could better support the efforts of advisors around engaging their clients in strategic philanthropy and the ability to generate social impact.

As a result of a few months of planning and research we came up with five key areas for deeper discussion:

  1. The role of the Trusted Advisor and their relationship with Philanthropy Advisors

  2. Motivations for Giving

  3. Women in Philanthropy

  4. The Rising Generation and Philanthropy

  5. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Family Enterprise (this was later expanded to include all size and types of companies, not just family-owned)

My area of interest was in point five - CSR and the Family Enterprise.  I am intrigued with this topic because there is so little written about the role of small and medium sized businesses and their corporate citizenship policies.  Many of these businesses are family owned, so all the more reason we need to create a body of knowledge and best practices to support these companies and families.

When we talk about CSR and all the other jargon that comes along with it - Shared Value, Blended Value, Triple Bottom Line, etc. we seem to overlook that family enterprises that have been practising this type of business management for several generations.  In my career I have come to realize, similar to what Mark Kramer, Michael Porter and Jed Emerson have written about, that good corporate citizenship programs in family businesses have the same characteristics:

  • Shared social agenda → The social objectives of all the stakeholders (family, business and charity) are the same
  • Measurement is based on the shared agenda that has been articulated and failure is expected as
  • Networks are opened - It is expected that individuals will bring their connections to the table to further advance the agenda and push the needle on the social objectives
  • Fee-for-service v. Donation - Companies seeking services from charities (i.e. counselling support for employees) should consider the value of the fees requested to perform this service as opposed to simply making a donation to the counselling centre as a way to offset the service provided.  This speaks to sustainability and scalability of the service/organization.
  • Ongoing communication is a must - Failures and successes need to be shared and iterated upon

There is an organization in Boulder, CO called the Entrepreneur’s Foundation.  Start-up companies donate 1% of their shares and/or profit to the community foundation in the anticipation that when their company becomes successful it has made a significant donation back to the community.  More importantly it has integrated into its DNA a component of community engagement and citizenship that can be shared and built upon with its future employees and customers.

What does your own company’s CSR and corporate citizenship program look like? Do you touch on the five points shared above?  What is working well and what isn't?  How do you share your experiences with your stakeholders?  What about sharing with the broader business community? Tell us your story so we can share it out with our network of business owners, financial and legal advisors and donors.

Attachment Size
US_Trust_Study_of_the_Philanthropic_Conversation_EXECUTIVE SUMMARY.pdf 406.08 KB
US_Trust_Study_of_the_Philanthropic_Conversation_FULL VERSION_final.pdf 908.49 KB


the Summit Conference on philanthropy

One of the advantages of this multi-faceted day on philanthropy was that we could meet many whom we hadn't met before, even if we may have known each others names. [at least that was my experience.] My own emphasis at this meeting was on #s 1 and 4.

In many ways this kind of gathering was both refreshing and disconcerting. Refreshing - because those who attend are untypical - their/our starting point is the value of collaboration among professionals with different expertise. Disconcerting - because the issues raised by the US Trust report are "old news" and have been discussed many times before, yet the professional barriers to getting it remain. It underscored, once again, how even the word "philanthropy" has very different functional meanings for different professionals. For those of us who spend our time advising funders, it has everything to do with helping determine the wisest and most gratifying ways of giving money away; for those whose field is in wealth management and investing, the starting points are the optimal vehicles for investment of assets which can then be used for philanthropic purposes. The meeting was open, well intentioned, and purposeful and I have no doubt that several very constructive collaborations will emerge. But we were a tiny self selected mix, and it illustrated how far our respective fields need to go to truly advise those who can use our expertise in timely and productive ways.
The second conversation, about intergenerational matters, was intriguing and showed how important and powerful the societal changes which define all of our experiences. Transferring values and their manifestation, philanthropy, has never been easy or automatic, but the discussion confirmed that it is both easier and more challenging to do so in the midst of these rapid changes. It illustrated how crucial it is to understand family systems, to be able to translate between and among generations, and to engage and empower all family members if this is to work.

Congratulations to Gena and Deborah, and of course to the EMCEE, John A, for an effective convening. I look forward to continuing our dialogues in settings near and far.

So what will be next?

Hi Richard; Thank you for sharing your voice in this conversation. It will be interesting to see where we take things and, if we can actually push the needle on some of the issues raised. Gena

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Back to top