When it comes to communicating about money and values, many families face a significant challenge. Some families never talk about these issues. Others talk about them — but with difficulty.

Family philanthropy can be an important and safe area in which to commence a family conversation about money and values — creating new and effective rules of engagement that carry over into other family matters. Here’s how.

Most philanthropic capital sits in family foundations or donor-advised funds and is no longer owned by the family. It has been irrevocably donated and no longer appears on a family’s balance sheet. Alternatively, this capital is earmarked for charity and will soon be donated. Either way, philanthropic capital is very different from the rest of a family’s assets.

By treating philanthropic money separately and differently, families can create a safe zone in which to discuss important topics.

Issues of control are often significant to the wealth-creating generation of a family (usually — although not always — older members). Often, in working with families, we hear wealth-creators express doubts about the capacity of rising generations to handle money responsibly and to lead effectively. That lack of confidence can also exist between spouses and among siblings.

In the safe zone of charitable giving, all adult family members can participate with equal voices.

Family wealth counselor Courtney Pullen advises, “All families feel a gravitational pull toward maintaining their patterns and norms. In order to be successful, a family needs to expend as much time and energy investing in the dreams and ambitions of the rising generations as they do in establishing shared ­values and mission.”

Working to establish this philanthropic safe zone for family relationships can ­create enduring benefits.

Families have transformed their communication patterns and achieved a growing sense of empowerment (rather than entitlement) among the rising generations.

New York family business attorney Roy Kozupsky concludes: “Successful families who have sustained not only their wealth and their cultural fabric, but who have also cultivated the next generation of leaders, have a number of things in common, including 1) a clear sense of family vision and purpose, and 2) a shared sense of the family’s wealth and how that is shared with their community through their philanthropic values and activities.”


Bruce DeBoskey, a philanthropic strategist working with The DeBoskey Group, writes for Tribune News Service.