“Family foundations evolve, so they need to be able to evolve.”—Kelin Gersick, author, Generations of Giving
As I participated in the preconference transitions workshop at this week’s Council on Foundations Family Philanthropy Conference in San Jose, I was struck by the simple truth of this statement. The life cycle of a family foundation is filled with key turning points that shape its personality, its impact, and its legacy. These transition points can be generated by the families through births, marriages, divorces, and deaths. They can be stimulated by the foundation, as when an influx of assets occurs or a change in leadership happens. Involving new generations is a special transition with countless implications. And transitions can be brought about by the community, when needs change and a new giving approach or expanded geography may be desired.
Regardless of the catalyst, the way a family comes together to address issues over time is how a family foundation is truly formed. Transitions can be challenging, yet they are necessary and filled with possibility. They are opportunities for renewing the engagement of trustees. For balancing respect for legacy with the needs and circumstances of the time. For reimagining the future.
In short, they are points in time for learning how to evolve.
As I talk with the many engaged and committed family members here in San Jose, I am reinvigorated by their willingness to learn and try new approaches, to have necessary but “difficult” conversations, and to look objectively at the impact of their work. The field is evolving, one family at a time.
Virginia Esposito is president of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.