Synergos Offices, New York City, May 6 2016 | Summary Report
All in the family: Philanthropy and family business
For some families, business is inextricably linked to their family philanthropy. These families may choose to give via their businesses or they may use business practices and vision to structure the establishment of a separate philanthropic structure. GPC Members Mayra Hernández (MH) and Henri van Eeghen (HvE) shared their perspectives on and experiences with the overlapping worlds of business and philanthropy.
On their family businesses and backgrounds
HvE: We (the van Eeghen group) just had our 350th anniversary a few years ago. And when I was running the company I was the 14th generation running it. We also have a family foundation, and then outside the family foundation we may set up new foundations because we also want to attract others to take part. One example was around peace and reconciliation during the Cold War. A family member was quite involved in getting Russian admirals, and generals, and American admirals, generals, and from the UK, and from France together, Chatham House Rules, in the Netherlands to sit down and to get to know each other physically face-to-face. And we set up a foundation, and then found some other money from the US and from continental Europe to finance this. That was done separately so as to create leverage. So that was another way of using your philanthropy together with others so not just do it yourself but actually others involved.
MH: My family comes from a very humble background. I am from Mexico. We are the fourth generation. And first my great grandfather and grandfather founded a food company. They developed the industry for corn flour and to make tortillas. From the very beginning, they really, really, really cared about their people. They cared about the environment, so little by little by doing things from the heart, they realized that it was good for the business. And I was lucky to grow up hearing those stories. On the other hand, my great grandmother was a very, very, very giving woman. So my grandfather had the vision of creating the businesses foundations. So the food foundation and that one were run for many, many years by one of my aunts. Also my cousin, who happens to be here, worked on that foundation. One of the main issues of the food business foundation was to support my grandfather’s hometown basically in education and sports. And then a few years later he saw this opportunity of running a bank, so food and money were a very good tie. And that’s where I became involved. I have a graphic design background so it’s like I had my own firm. The two companies were my clients so I also knew them. But, but at the same time I had like this ache like I wanted to do something. I wanted to inspire my clients or just like tell them about conscious living, so whether using recycled paper or some kind of messaging. It’s nice in theory but you don’t have that much impact. I also realized at the same time that even if my grandfather was doing things good for the environment and the society, the world was starting to change. Corporate social responsibility was now becoming more strategic. So there was a name. There was a way to do it. I realized that I had this opportunity by being in the family to have more impact through a larger company than by trying to do it with each one of my clients.
So that’s basically how I convinced my grandfather to give me this job, to give me this opportunity and create something from the bank. So it’s been five years since I’ve been working on this and developing a strategy that it’s more institutional. It doesn’t have anything to do with the family
On transfer of family values
HvE: It all starts when you’re young. Actually that’s really where it starts. It is the way that you’re brought up in the home. That connection is indirectly going into a family company or wherever you work. I grew up in a home with seven children. At our dinner table there were always just another two, or three, or four other children there either because somebody had got involved in drugs, or somebody got into serious conflict with both parents, and it was good to take the child out of that environment and bring it up somewhere else. That was the normal way of growing up and giving something back to society. That starts from a religious conviction, which was from the Dutch Reform Church, which is very conservative in terms of how you deal with material wealth. Maybe the religious part has reduced, but the underlying values haven’t. I think that’s part of the transformation where I think our generation and my children are looking at different ways of giving meaning to their life without it necessarily having to be a church where they go on Sunday.
MH: There was definitely this very strong sense of love for the earth, love for the people. This deep respect that I definitely would say also comes from God and from the spiritual perspective as well as from the traditional Catholic perspective. But we are a big family so it’s different for everyone. For some of us, those values are very important and for some others they’re not so much. They’re more business focused, more driven in that way. That has generated a little bit of frustration at times in me because I see all these gatherings and family foundations and families that get united like in order to do something, I wish that we were able to have that as a family or as an extended family.
On decision making in families with complex interests
HvE: It wasn’t a conscious choice to make it organic, but that’s the way it was, and everybody felt quite comfortable with it. We have 40 shareholders in the family company, but that goes up and down because the foundation owns the preferential share so it actually controls the company; this also means that none of the family members can force the company to be sold, or it’s extremely difficult to do so. The foundation has a very strong say in that. I think it’s rather unusual. But it has evolved. Maybe fluidity helps also to reduce the risk of conflict without being completely conflict averse because we don’t need to be. Conflict is also a positive value when it is resolved in the right way because it creates a higher quality.
MH: I believe that there has to be a common thread, and a very good place to start would be the heart or just that desire where you have something bigger than yourself to do something. Maybe that can help us or help a family come together. I think that that would be the best way. There are definitely ways organizations or even facilitators that can help a family get that drive.
* * *
The role of the next generation
In the ecosystem of family philanthropy, next generation philanthropists are everywhere you turn-at the center of numerous articles, reports, panels, affinity groups, entire organizations. Their importance can’t be understated. They play a critical role in carrying out the legacy of older generations and in redefining philanthropy, questioning traditional approaches, supporting new causes, and taking a more strategic, impact-driven approach. Their influence is growing and will impact the field for the foreseeable future. In the US alone a small group of Gen-Xers and Millennials are inheriting $40 trillion dollars in wealth, much of it earmarked for philanthropy. The GPC Next Gen group might be one of the earliest subgroups of the Circle with member-led convenings happening for the past 12 years. The group includes both younger members of GPC families as well as young philanthropists who joined the circle on their own. In this session GPC members Justin McAuliffe (JM), Aditi Kothari (AK), and Rowan Finnegan (RF)) discussed their experiences as next generation family member playing leadership roles in their family’s philanthropy.
On family background and philanthropy
RF: My mom is one of six siblings, and she was one of the two that went out west and was somewhat of a black sheep in the family living in New Mexico. And so philanthropy as I grew up was more about the way in which she interacted with her community. She is a therapist and an art therapist, and most of the clients that she worked with, she didn’t charge or she charged them what they could afford. And lots of people ended up staying in our house for many months, or in some cases years, and living off of the space that she created. That was something that I’ve engaged with over time and has influenced me throughout the years.
In her family context, our family foundation was intrinsically tied to the family business. So as a fifth generation family business, the foundation supported community development, arts, and historic preservation in the area in which it operated. In 2005 and 2006, we had two different liquidity events. Two different businesses were sold. The core company that had held the foundation was sold, and therefore the foundation separated out and got significantly more assets as a result. We were faced with a question of what to do with the foundation in the context of this generational transition, this business transition. We convened our family and said, “What is the vision for this going forward?” We convened a group of mixed generations to look at what core values of the family we wanted to see reflected in our philanthropy that differed from the historic focus of the foundation. What we came to ultimately was the intersection of conservation and renewable energy in the environment, and that we wanted to do that globally. We split the endowment of the foundation to focus on the environment, and then also continued to focus on the core areas that we’d been involved in. At the same time, we tried to continue the legacy of having discretionary funds so that people could be engaged with philanthropy across the generations.
AK: I’m going to be talking a little differently about philanthropy in general because in India it was looked at differently over generations. In my family, I’m also the fifth generation. We’ve always been in the financial field, and right now we’re in the investment management field. We’ve sort of had a legacy, but in India it wasn’t really ever a foundation; these were like trusts. Each trust had something an infrastructure built around it.
There are a lot of schools that my grandfather’s brother started in a small city about three hours from Mumbai where I live. These schools were mainly for girls. There’s also a hospital in Bombay that we built for low income people because in India, there’s not much health care insurance so people constantly need help as far as medical is concerned. There’s no Social Security or anything of the sort. We also had what they call sanatoriums back in the day and we now don’t know what to do with them, except we have a lot of land and that comes with its own problems because we have had a lot of encroachments. So those are issues you have to deal with. One of the newer things we have is a hostel for boys in Bombay.
In addition, my father started the Wildlife Conservation Trust and, again, I was always telling my father, I said, “Now we’ve come to our generation. We have to realize what a foundation is and what an operating NGO is. We have to decide which one we want to be in because everything was always operational.” As a result, there were generations that were not interested in this. For example, my great grandfather may have started those schools for girls or the sanatorium, which is now defunct. Also, in my family a lot of people didn’t have children so it sort of just came down on my family. My father is one of six, but no one really seems to be interested except for him.
The Wildlife Conservation Trust was formed back in 2002. It became more active in 2009 with a great CEO that we found. We tried to make it as professional as possible and it’s now in 110 sanctuaries all over India. And not only do we support the actual sanctuary: as I tell people, tigers don’t really need money. It’s really the communities around the forest that need education on what poaching is, or that the best way to earn a living is not by cutting down trees. We’re trying to give them alternate livelihoods, helping with education, and of course health so that they know that they’re not being neglected in any way. So this is sort of a three-pronged approach.
On vision and values in family’s philanthropy
JM: I’m a fourth generation member of the Hilton family. When I was reflecting on the questions and the audience, I decided to talk about values transfer because we’re talking about family businesses, family foundations, multiple generations, inheritance… sort of succession planning. But I think at the core of it, what we’re really talking is values transfer. This is just in my own opinion but I find that when financial assets are transferred from one generation to the other but values don’t transfer, that’s where a lot of the issues come from. We are probably all very familiar with the statistics: something like 2% of businesses make it past the third generation and there are obviously a lot of challenges with getting younger generations involved.
Part of my job at the foundation is managing the family philanthropy and our intergenerational giving programs. I think I have a sort of similar experience with Rowan in that not all of the family members are that engaged, even though they have a discretionary fund and they can basically suggest an organization that they feel a passion for and get a grant. I have this feeling that a lot of people kind of want this magic bullet and they’re looking for like some six-week seminar that they can send their kids to and all of a sudden they’re going to be philanthropists, they’re going to have all these passions, and everything’s going work out. But, in my experience, the one thing that remains really true is that there really is no easy answer and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
It’s never easy and it’s always different depending on what family member it is. And I think it doesn’t start with an intergenerational giving program that your foundation does or that your family office does; I think it starts the very moment that your child is born, or when you take that young person under your wing. It’s a lifetime of learning and the biggest component of it is basically that actions speak louder than words. Something really small, an insignificant thing; you know, you’re talking to like a four year old maybe you’re having dinner and then, you know, you have some leftover food and you pack it up, and then you see someone, you know, who’s, who’s maybe looks like they’re suffering from homelessness or something like that and you give them the food. And the kid says, “Well, hey, why are we doing that?“
And you say, “Oh, well, we have enough and this person isn’t as lucky as we are so we’re going to provide for them as well.” And I think that mentality of abundance rather than scarcity and getting into the habit of giving from a very young age is really the only thing that’s going to work. I’m not sure that taking a 14 year old who you haven’t talked to about philanthropy or family values, and then just saying, “You have this $5,000 fund that you can give to any non-profit. Go do it.” It doesn’t usually end up working out that well. I’ve been very, very fortunate in that my parents spent a lot of time with me and they demonstrated to me what their values are. That’s how I was able to inherit their values.
As a foundation we have a lot of challenges, but one thing we do very well is live true to the philosophy that Conrad Hilton set forward: to alleviate the suffering of the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. It’s a nebulous mission statement, but I know for a fact that every single employee at the foundation can tell you that exact phrase like that because we actually just had a marketing consultant come in and ask everyone. And they were like, “This is the first place we’ve ever been to where everyone knows the mission statement like that.” But I also think that the family members take that to heart. The statement covers a wide array of passions and purposes but I think that it’s very special that, amongst four generations now, we all have inherited some semblance of these values.
AK: Everything we do, we do with the government. We don’t want to supplement the government. We want to complement the government. We want to help them. And wherever the government can do something, we just train them. We train a lot of the staff and we let them do what they can. So that’s really the philosophy here and that’s probably the new trust that has been formed. Where I fit in, I don’t want to form any more trusts in my generation. I don’t think it’s fair to leave it to the next generation who may not be interested, and it’s not for us to force them to be interested in something. I don’t think it’s right to impose your beliefs, or maybe they’ll be interested in something else. It’s also a lot of work. It’s a lot of obligation. So eventually I think what’s going to happen is that we will have an endowment and a foundation, which we’ve never really had in our family, so that things can go on.
We have to put something more professional in place that hasn’t been done yet. The problem with also putting a foundation or an endowment in India is given that we’re in the investment management space foundations, we are only allowed to invest in X, Y, and Z securities and you’re not making the most of your money by that. So it’s better, I mean at least in our generation, that we’re doing it ourselves and then giving money as needed to the various objectives. In addition I decided to be on the board of Dasra. Dasra is a non-profit in India that helps other non-profits to be more professional. It also talks to philanthropists on the other side and teaches them how to give more strategically. So I’ve learned a lot. And it also helps us to think more strategically in the way we’re going to give and where next we want to give.
Personally, I like to be part of what Dasra calls “giving circles.” These giving circles bring ten people together around a particular topic, for example, urban schooling in Mumbai, or government public schools in Mumbai. I was part of that giving circle. There were ten of us. Dasra explained to us the problem. They also explained to us the areas we need to give to, which they said clearly is not infrastructure because we have 900 schools. It was the quality of education. And then within that they vetted three NGOs working on this issue. Say, so-and-so is working on teacher training. So-and-so is working on headmaster. And so-and-so is working on bridging the gap. We all had to vote on the one area that we thought needed to be addressed, and the NGO that we liked.
So together, we voted for something that does a lot of teacher training because we thought that was the most scalable model, and that they could export that curriculum to other areas beyond Mumbai, beyond Maharashtra, all over India. That’s what we thought would give the most impact in this area overall. On the back of what we did, that NGO collected five to six times more money because we built their credibility.
But the reason I got involved earlier on is because if I’m going to inherit all of this, I feel there’s a responsibility. The earlier you learn about this the better, and you’ll be able to make more informed decisions later on.
* * *
Perspectives on Family Philanthropy
In this session GPC Member Marianne Gimon d’Ansembourg (MGD) joined Steve Toben (ST), President, President of the Flora Family Foundation, for a discussion on the roles of family members and the roles of staff members in family foundations.
On the origins and structure of the Flora Family Foundation and the family’s engagement
ST: The Hewlett Foundation was established 50 years ago. In 1998 Walter Hewlett, who was the son of Bill Hewlett, the co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard company, was concerned that the family would find itself increasingly marginalized as the Hewlett Foundation became ever larger and more professionalized. So Walter’s idea was to the create a separate foundation that would be a full-throated outlet for all of the descendants of Bill and Flora Hewlett and their spouses to be able to pursue whatever interests they wished to pursue, to experiment, to try out ideas, to form partnerships with other members of the family council, and to evolve programs over time. So for the past 15-plus years, the Flora Family Foundation has operated by that model. Seven out of the nine members of the board of directors are members of the family or spouses of members of the family. There is a rotational structure that provides for two-year terms of office.
There’s an interval of about six years in between terms on the board. Family comprises the entirety of all of our foundation committees, our investment committee, and our impact investing subcommittee. Any new initiative is animated entirely by the energies of the family members. The age range is from now 27 up to 70 or so. We have good representation across the board. Virtually every member of the family is energetically engaged. Each member of the family council has an allocation of funds, and those are often pooled. About 60% of the total grants budget is made available in the form of individual allocations shared equally among all members of the family no matter how old, or young, or married into, or linear descendants and so on.
MGD: I think it’s worked very well seeing how high the participation rate is in the family and how diverse our family is. For me, it’s been an incredible experience to travel and to learn so much about grant making. Professionally, I also work in this field but as a practitioner so to get that kind of education as a donor (and I think I started grant making in my early 20’s) is something I’m very thankful for. I think the participation of the spouses is really critical. A lot of people find that an unusual part of our model is as soon as you’re married in, you have the same allocation as anybody else. It can be somewhat daunting for someone to kind of jump in to grantmaking. But I think when you’re talking about educating the next generation, both parents have to be involved in what philanthropy is. It’s like having only one parent reading to their child at night and not both parents. Both parents need to know the language of philanthropy in order for the next generation to get it. I don’t know yet because our kids are so young so the true test will be what the fourth generation does.
On division of responsibility between staff and family
ST: Rather than delineating roles as staff versus board, I would describe the roles as falling in the categories of staff and family council because it is the case that the family council is really the brains of the foundation. Each of the 28 stakeholders has an equal opportunity to contribute to that collective intelligence. The process works in one of two ways. First, someone like Marianne will say, “I have been out in the world looking at specific NGOs. I have a very clear idea of a promising candidate for support. I have done the necessary due diligence to have confidence that the foundation can put its name behind this organization. I would like to sponsor a grant.” And Marianne personally sponsors the grant. She must accompany her grant write-up with a sponsor statement, which is very personal and describes the reasons why she believes this particular organization has merit, and that is the basis on which the board will act.
The second avenue that describes the relationship between staff and family council is one where a family member will say, “Gosh, I’m really interested in the issue of childhood obesity in the Los Angeles basin. We as a couple would like to undertake a mini portfolio in this area. Can you help us identify organizations and funding partners with whom we can work?” That then becomes my task to map the field and assist them in identifying organizations. That’s the fundamental dynamic that we have between family council and staff.
On the evolution of sub-interest groups and funding by family
MGD: I think the program started maybe eight years ago. We pool a certain amount of our allocation and we have quarterly meetings about potential grantees. We’re lucky because Steve was a former environment director at the Hewlett Foundation so he knows a lot about the sector.
ST: There’s a wonderful metaphor that the founding president used to describe the process of developing programs. At the beginning he said, “We will wander through the forest and make footpaths. And over time those footpaths may converge and we will have country lanes. And then over time perhaps there will be more convergence and we’ll have highways. And those highways will become our programs.” And this is very similar to Henri van Eeghen’s comment about the organic nature of program evolution. In the beginning, there were no programs. But today we have two semi-formal programs. One is in climate, as Marianne mentioned, and the other is in international development. But all of this arose in a very unforced way. In the case of a climate program, many of the family members were together in the Caribbean eight years ago and they said, “We need to do something about this.” And they collectively pooled resources. They received additional funding from the general pool of grant funds and that launched the climate program. The grants budget it divided roughly in shares. Sixty percent of the grants budget is made available to the 28 members of the family council in equal shares. The remaining 40% of the general grants budget is assigned to our two program areas in climate and international development. That’s how it’s evolved over time.
On family - staff dynamics in foundation management
MGD: There’s never a better opportunity to get to know a staff member than going and traveling to Cambodia on a Gap Program trip with Steve. I think that was the first trip that we had. And previously I had gone to Mali with our previous president, Going to a developing country, seeing grantees, discussing over dinner what we saw, what we wanted to do. You really get to see them in action. It almost doesn’t feel like staff and family. Steve really feels like part of the family now. It’s like seeking wise counsel when you need it. I’m more on the independent side of knowing where I want to do a lot of my grant making but I always enjoy talking to Steve about thinking more strategically. He has a lot more professional experience in this space. So, when there are hiccups with organizations he is really important to have around and is very diplomatic. He headed the conflict resolution at Hewlett, which is also super important because he’s such a great mediator. With 28 personalities in a family there can be issues that come up and Steve is so gracious and diplomatic.
ST: The foundation does allow for a lot of individual autonomy, so people aren’t forced to agree all the time. You have your allocation and if you want to go in a solitary direction that’s fine provided you don’t do crazy stuff. Social norms evolve over time. A certain fundamental respect for the dignity of the foundation, for the family’s name, that becomes woven into the fabric of how business is done. And in the way, we do a lot of edgy stuff, too. So there’s no problem with that. That comes part and parcel with the value of respect for diverse points of view. But, in my estimation, this is a well-functioning family. Certainly there are disagreements. What family doesn’t have disagreements? What family doesn’t have different points of view on what’s most important to fund in the world? But the level of collegiality among the cousins especially has been really a central feature. And that relates to a real attention that the parents’ generation gave to providing experiences for the cousins to spend time with each other as children.
On transmission of family values
MGD: I think it happens without you realizing it. Now that I’m a parent, I realize this term “modeling,” which is very important: your kids might end up doing something that you do, for the best or for the worst. My mom was always a very active member of the Hewlett Foundation board. We were living in France and she would go three or four times a year for her board meetings. I think I knew about general support grants before I even applied to college. She would talk to me about these things. Our family foundation was very involved in reproductive health so I remember when the Cairo conferences were happening in 1990. Just talking about issues going on in the world and where you can have impact - it’s hard to talk about family values in the sense that you don’t really realize how they’re being transmitted.
* * *
Beyond nuts and bolts: Family dynamics, values, and philanthropic structures
At this session, GPC Members Valerie Rockefeller Wayne (VRW) and Monica Winsor (MW) offered their insights on the dynamics, values, and interests that have influenced the evolution, strategy, and structure of their family’s philanthropy.
On their family structures related to philanthropy
VRW: Peggy, whom many of you know, is my father’s first cousin. There are six or seven generations of Rockefellers. Now there are a few hundred of us. I chair the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. I’m, in fact, the second woman to chair the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. But it is called the Brothers Fund after John D. Sr., who made the money and started giving it away his entire lifetime. Even before he had much money he always tithed at his church. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who worked for a short time in the family business, hated it and became a full-time philanthropist. And then my grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, III, had four brothers and one sister. It was this generation where philanthropy became more formalized through family, through institutions and also having more staff who came in and helped with the giving. The brothers used to get together on Sunday afternoons because they got so many requests for money that they would meet and talk about and try to have more of an impact. And then then the Rockefeller Brothers Fund became a formal foundation in 1940 and started evolving in its grant making.
The way our families get together is twice a year in family reunions. I grew up in West Virginia and so I didn’t know the Rockefeller family very well because we could only make it once a year. We’d come at December and I loved it. We’d stay in the city for a night and it was this glorious thing, but there were too many people and I could never remember people’s names. So eventually I moved around a ton and then have found myself back in New York, which is where I taught, did my graduate school education, and got more and more involved in the family organizations. There are several of them, and the Rockefeller Foundation is the biggest one. That one actually for many years had no Rockefellers involved in it. Peggy was on that board, and also it’s now chaired by David Rockefeller Jr. The family organizations, I do. I’m on two education boards, because that’s my training and background, and on three family education boards.
MW: In terms of our family foundations, we have two started by my great grandfather around 1950, one in Canada and-kind of by accident-and one here in the US based in New York. We have governors that are both family members and non-family members in Canada; since we are not Canadian by blood, it’s really helpful to have outside trustees so that we can have the knowledge base to really be effective there in making grants. In the US it’s now all family. We’ve gone through a huge evolution in the structure of the William H. Donner Foundation, which is our US foundation. In the beginning, there was a lot of divisiveness in the second generation about program areas and just general divisiveness.
There was a lot of talking through lawyers. We brought in outside family and outside trustees, and actually the result was that there was a splitting of the foundation. I bring this up just because I think this happens a lot, and it can be blessing or it can be a heart-wrenching experience. In our case, it was a heart-wrenching experience where there was a division in the family. About half of the foundation split off with the non-family trustees, and the existing family members who continued became really focused on the importance of family. I think that carries into our values now: how to keep that communication and that level of involvement. I’m a member of the fourth generation and we’re into our fifth.
We have 20 or so active members. Much like the Flora Foundation, we have trustees who rotate for governance purposes. But in terms of family members we’re about 24. We meet once a year, which has provided us with a time to really get to know each other as cousins. And I share your view that it’s a great experience to both know people you never would have known and get to know them really intimately, sometimes divisively. And just another note on the kind of evolution of how we have structured ourselves: we used to be a program-based organization where we would vote on particular grants as a board and many of those grants were staff driven. In the ’90s it became so complicated - there was so much division in terms of politics, world views, socioeconomic values, situations, etc. As the generations get further and further away from the donor, we reached a sort of crisis where there was talk of sun setting. We ended up dividing into individual allocations in the US, which was atomizing for a while. I think we’re in a really good place now because although we have the individual allocations, we also have affinity groups so there’s a lot of organic collaboration, and it’s working for right now.
On how family values influence philanthropic strategy and giving
MW: It has definitely evolved over time. When I first became a member, which was when I was 18, it was sort of baptism by fire, although I’d always grown up going to meetings. In my nuclear family we were very philanthropically oriented and internationally oriented. There was a lot of talking to each other, and there was also, I think, a little less listening. There was also a lot of fear, which was a historical thing from the whole division between family and non-family and within families. It was a difficult environment to find shared values. As we have matured or evolved, we have more of a structure for better listening. With the fifth generation we have shifted pretty dramatically from where we were when I began granting at 18. When my sister, who’s ten years younger, became a voting member she had her own allocation. At that point the market was really high and it was I think terrifying for her. So I think now we’re much better at being attuned, being aware of sensitivity to new members and how to really integrate and hear each other.
VRW: Everyone is in very different financial circumstances in our families because the trusts were set up so you don’t have access to the money until your parents die, which leads to some jokes. But the fact is that depending on who has died before you, everyone has very different resources. As a result I think people’s values are manifested in different ways because you’re not given money when you turn 18. Your parents may choose to but they certainly don’t have to. It’s not set up that way. Most of the family money is either in these endowments, which we don’t even consider our money anymore- it’s a non-profit endowment-or in trusts, which are controlled by people outside of the family.
You can see people’s values in the work that they do. It just so happens that the Rockefellers had always been interested in conservation and environmentalism. If you look now out at our cousins, there’s not enough money that people don’t have to work anymore. A lot of people have chosen to go into those fields. Sometimes through their own individual work, people reach a point then when they are chosen by nominating committees and other groups to be part of the foundation to see if they’d be interested in serving on the board, because they’ve ended up sharing the same values.
And the sense of responsibility is everywhere. When we have family meetings, we try to make them more fun because we’re having trouble getting younger people to come. The family is very dispersed, but there is an electronic newsletter, the philanthropic newsletter, and people also get up and talk about updates from each of the family organizations. You cannot avoid philanthropy. That’s what we talk about. It’s either completely informal or basically you’re talking about philanthropy. So the values are around you but people express their values in their own way because you have to make your own life choices. There is no right to serve on a family board. Not at all. You have to be chosen by nominating committees, which also consist of non-family trustees. So you have to build your resume first.
On involving children in the family foundation
MW: My daughter turned 21 last week so she’s now eligible to begin a fairly elaborate training for new members. In our family foundation, once you go through this training with the staff of the foundation, you give a report to the board to show what you’ve learned. Then you are given a very small allocation to start with. I have a 21 year old, an 18 year old, and a 4 year old. I’ve tried, as they’ve grown older, to, to just show through modeling, to get them to have it as part of their life. A lot of times as a family and an extended family, we try and take trips where we can incorporate thing like a grantee visit so they can really see what it is that we do.
Despite all of that, I have concerns because I think it can be really confusing. I think the relationship to money is complex in itself. Relationship to money in philanthropy adds a whole other level of complexity that is really hard to teach. I think has to become experientially learned. So I’m trying to be gentle with my daughter, who is, I think, a little intimidated or confused. There are other organizations that I think are really helpful, including Threshold (which my husband conveniently started) which deals with families and the relationship to money. I know that my sisters have gotten involved with Resource Generation, which, again, has a lot of activity around how to be a philanthropist and an activist, what your identity relationship. So, I’m encouraging them. I’m not pushing them. I’m trying to do the modeling model.
VRW: One thing that’s nice about our family coming together is that it’s nice to hear about philanthropy from other people, and then you can maybe have lunch or reach out to someone in the family and learn from them so it doesn’t have to come from your parents. Our kids are younger - 5, 7, and 9 years old. The schools do so much now; they’re teaching them I think really good philanthropy, too, in that they are going out and doing things.
I think this is just such an exciting time to be a parent because you feel like the values are being reinforced. You know you always hear the negative things, but there are also great values. They (our kids) are like little environmentalists. They’re pressuring me. It’s not me pressuring them really. I think I moved around way too much growing up, and now I think we’re going to try to keep our kids in one place so they can be really deeply rooted in the community. That will make it easier, too. They can have their own identity and values and know other people really well; most people don’t even know we’re Rockefellers where I live. They don’t have to grow up with that part of it. They can really get it in the community.
On involvement of spouses
VRW: My husband has lived in Russia for 25 years. He has only ever been in the private sector, so his first non-profit board is Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, which is, to me, the most business-oriented board that I’m on because we actually have clients. I’ve only ever worked for the government my entire life so this is a very new mindset for me. He chairs the audit committee on Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and I chair the nominating committee, and it’s great. Our lives are quite separate in lots of ways, and it’s so nice to have something that we can do together. We try to balance out our schedules this way to support each other that way, too. But in our experience for the most part it’s been a great thing having the spouses involved.
I could say one more thing on the spouse front. This is just not about philanthropy. Even though I stopped working when I married my husband, Steve, and moved to Russia, he’s very good always to say to the kids, “Well, this is our money.” We don’t have the motto of “the man’s working and the mother’s not,” even though that is, in fact, how it turned out. And we do the same thing in philanthropy. We do a donor advised fund, so any gift we make comes through that and comes from both of us. But we always very explicitly say to the kids, “It’s our money. The two of us get to make all the decisions in that, in their lives, and in the giving.” So you can present to the kids that way where in fact the money comes from or not.
MW: I wish I could say I have the same experience. In our foundation, it’s in the bylaws that philanthropy is by lineal descendants of my great grandfather, so spouses are not officially involved. Now, sometimes they are unofficially involved for sure. I really took note of what Marianne was saying about how it really does create an imbalance. It’s something we’ve discussed but we haven’t been able to resolve. Fortunately, in my situation, my husband has his own foundation so that’s great for my kids. But as a policy, it’s something that is concerning to me. I don’t know how it will pan out later but for now I think we are stuck with the structure that we have and we can only just informally do things together. Generally, spouses do come to board meetings and travel and such, but they don’t have a vote.
* * *