Wealth is not measured only in financial assets, and wealth management should not be guided simply by numbers. Families have a deep wealth in their values and in the stories they tell that, in our experience of working with donors, can be wielded as a unique and valuable strategic resource.
Imagine you own a family business that weathered 2020, and you are considering making a bequest in your estate to organizations that have proven crucial to your community. Or perhaps you want to respond to rising community needs and want to launch a foundation or fund to address a specific goal. Conversations with family and friends yield plenty of suggestions, but many donors become stymied in determining what path will be both engaging and the best use of available resources.
Another equally challenging scenario confronts those who inherit the reins of a philanthropic entity. Suddenly siblings and cousins all want a say in the family legacy, and there isn’t a clear process for finding common ground or a shared purpose, especially when the debates get personal and touch on myriad beliefs of what best reflects the prior generation’s wishes.
What is needed, in either situation, is a clear, concise summary of the motivations, hopes, vision, and values that inspired the start of what will be or has become an entire family’s philanthropic journey – an expression of donor intent. Having helped many clients get to the heart of purposeful philanthropy, we’ve captured an adaptable and rewarding process we use in a newly republished resource: Across Generations: A Five-Step Guide for Creating an Expression of Donor Intent. If you are unfamiliar with this kind of document and what one might achieve for you and your family, I’d like to offer a quick summary of what an expression of donor intent delivers.
A Snapshot of Personal Process and Motivations
An expression of donor intent is not a legally binding document. Instead, it is a concise articulation of a wealth creator’s experiences and beliefs, set down in a format that will inform family and advisors of the core values that should drive funding decisions well into the future. To have an expression of donor intent alongside governance documents is an invaluable gift to future generations. If you are grappling with trying to guess at or understand the concerns of a donor who is no longer alive, you can appreciate how meaningful it is to capture important beliefs and guidance in a way that can be easily shared with others. Creating this summary will take you through family facts and stories, and that journey will in turn help you in moving forward.
A Vision for Your Philanthropy
A foundation, fund, or bequest’s mission statement is often a practical statement of goals. It may identify one or more social issues of concern and address how resources should be used to tackle those issues. It may even include specific targets, geographies, or other components. An expression of donor intent brings the reasons for those choices to life, allowing others to gain a deeper understanding of the donor’s broad vision and values. The two kinds of statements dovetail into a fuller, richer set of guidance for families to follow.
An Enduring Personal Record
Researching ancestry is a popular activity, and the process for creating an expression of donor intent helps clarify some of what is often intangible about a person. Future generations can then understand that person more fully and carry these understandings forward in ways that are meaningful to future generations as well as society. The Across Generations guide starts with the exercise of imagining the generations to come and what they will want to know, and then delves deeper with checklists and prompts such as a list of values held most dearly. The guide closes with practical pointers on creating a finished product and making sure the document complements other governance documents.
TPI’s Across Generations: A Five-Step Guide for Creating an Expression of Donor Intent, created in partnership with Personal Legacy Advisors, is available for purchase, but we encourage you to share this blog with family and friends who may find it to be a valuable resource. No matter how much you and your family give, we can report that every TPI client who has been through the process finds it personally rewarding. Capturing their unique stories, values, and vision helps to set in motion a true legacy that will be fully appreciated long into the future.