Lansberg·Gersick & Associates
Advising the world's leading family enterprises

Philanthropic Planning

Focus on wealth utilization

About one-quarter of our work relates to family philanthropy, most often as part of a complex family enterprise or family office.

Our research has shown that effective philanthropy can strengthen family relationships as it accomplishes its goals of serving public and community interests. For philanthropy to be a positive experience, however, it must be approached with the same discipline and thoughtfulness that propels a business. Our research, consulting experience, and publications on philanthropy are our platform of understanding of how families structure and operate their foundations. We use that understanding in our teaching and research about family philanthropy and in our consulting with individual family foundations.

Foundations and Families in Transition

Families often create a private foundation to organize their common philanthropic interests. Much of our work with family foundations begins with a relationship with the donor generation, helping them articulate and implement their philanthropic goals in the family context. However, like all family-based organizations, family foundations undergo predictable, important and demanding transitions, as the family and its enterprise become more complex over time. The change process often begins with the withdrawal or death of the founding donor who typically controlled the foundation and the board of directors. Family members—the founder’s spouse, offspring, grandchildren, extended family members and in-laws—are faced with the challenge of defining the founder’s legacy anew, while also developing their own vision for the future and shaping a more inclusive governance structure. LGA specializes in working with families as they navigate these transitions that challenge the foundation’s continuity:

  • Engaging younger generations in foundation governance and leadership;
  • Substantial increases or decreases in foundation assets;
  • The dispersal of family members into other cities and states;
  • The retirement of senior trustees or staff, or
  • The transition from direct family grantmaking to governance of a professionally-operated foundation.

We help families reexamine and evolve their mission and values, governing principles and practices, organizational structure, and grant programming. Our most typical services in support of family philanthropy include:

  • Organizing a “design process” for family philanthropy, including private foundations, funds, and giving programs
  • Facilitating philanthropy retreats as family members clarify individual and group values and priorities
  • Guiding families through choosing and implementing a participative governance structure (e.g. boards, trustees, staffing, committees, next generation boards)
  • Helping families manage the interdependence among the parts of the family enterprise: the foundation, operating businesses, family offices, and other collaborative efforts
  • Designing a program to educate, involve, and transition to the next generations
  • Advising on the most productive relationships between family members and professional staff

Research on Philanthropy

Our understanding of family philanthropy has made significant strides in recent years.  Thoughtful research, extensive education and training, and the open sharing of experience at forums and conferences have had a profoundly positive effect on the ability of private foundations, large and small, to accomplish strategic, high-impact philanthropy.  Family foundations have been at the forefront of this professionalizing trend, moving from extremely private and invisible operations to a new role as exemplars of sophisticated, ambitious, transparent, impact-focused grantmaking (e.g. Gates, Kaiser, Zuckerberg, Atlantic/Feeney, Barr, and many others).

Despite these developments, our understanding of governance in family philanthropy has lagged behind.  This is especially true for our largest and most complex philanthropic families.  In 2007, with the publication of Generations of Giving, LGA and NCFP approached the study of foundation governance in multi-generational family foundations.  Our purpose was to understand the key challenges to high-quality organizational functioning in these foundations, and to help those families who sought continuity to successfully transfer their foundations to succeeding generations.  

But much has changed in the world of family philanthropy over the intervening decade.  While family foundations continue to multiply, many third- and later-generation families have gone far beyond a single foundation, and have evolved multi-faceted philanthropic structures with complex governance systems.  They often have one or more “legacy” foundations created by earlier generations, a number of newer foundations created by siblings and cousins in later generations, a network of donor advised funds, extensive personal giving, values-aligned endowment management, and corporate social responsibility programs in their family-controlled operating businesses.  

Writing on Philanthropy

LGA co-founder Kelin Gersick led the research and writing of this landmark study of family foundations commissioned by the National Center for Family Philanthropy.

Using detailed and comprehensive analysis, Generations of Giving examines continuity and leadership over time within family foundations. Based upon a study of foundations in the United States and Canada that have survived through at least two generations, the authors ask probing questions, including: Why were the foundations started? What did they look like at the beginning? How did the families of the founders come to be involved? And how did they organize themselves to do their work from year to year, decade to decade? Although the foundations in the study are quite diverse in their goals and management, they have all had to confront and survive a common set of challenges. At the core of this volume is the study of two aspects of philanthropy: funding and volunteers -- each essential to the survival of a foundation. This study is about the 'why' and the 'how' of these two crucial aspects.


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