In preparing the next generation of young children and grandchildren to be happy and productive members of society, we believe that one of the single best activities to consider is family philanthropy.

For parents and grandparents looking to transfer values to future generations and create a lasting legacy, family philanthropy can’t be beat.
The benefits of philanthropy are extraordinary and well documented. Giving can boost happiness and satisfaction, increase life expectancy, reduce stress, and ease depression.1 For children, philanthropy can be especially impactful. By engaging in charitable activities, children experience increased well-being, popularity, and acceptance among peers, which leads to better classroom behavior and higher academic achievement.2
Family philanthropy is about giving together as a family. Collective, communal, and cooperative giving helps solidify family values. Through making gifting decisions as a family, younger family members can develop a wide variety of skills, including communication, negotiation, shared decision-making, leadership, accountability, investing, financial literacy, and responsibility to help others. As an added benefit, family philanthropy teaches the same skills that are necessary to prepare the younger generation to manage and expand the family’s wealth in the future.  


Family philanthropy is not only accessible to the wealthiest families with private foundations. Even for families without private foundations, a donor-advised fund, or DAF, could serve as a great cost-efficient resource for parents or grandparents to begin family philanthropy programs for younger members of their families. Because DAFs typically offer user-friendly online platforms without the expense and administrative burdens of a private foundation, they are often the ideal charitable vehicle to help the younger generation become a part of a family philanthropy program.
Before engaging in family philanthropy, it’s important for the elder generation to first facilitate a family meeting, which should include a meaningful discussion about philanthropy with the entire family – ideally, one where each member of the family proactively participates. Research has shown that conversations between parents and children about charity have an even greater positive impact on children than parents serving as silent role models through their own philanthropic activity.3 With the additional help of a neutral professional facilitator, this family meeting also could benefit from the inclusion of effective communication exercises, as well as the use of tools to help the family members discover their common values and vision.
Children can become part of a family philanthropy program at as young as five years old and can begin to play a deeper role with respect to the actual administration and investments of the family philanthropy program before they’re teenagers. Family members may wish to set standards for performance to accompany each grant given as part of the family philanthropy program, and selected charities that attain those standards might be allocated more funds in future years. The children can propose – and advocate for – a grant request, which could include site visits to the proposed grantee and interviews. A family philanthropy program could even require each participant to make some type of personal investment in any organization that will be receiving funds – such as actively volunteering with the organization or making a small personal gift along with the larger donation from the family philanthropy program.
As part of the family philanthropy program, each family member could be given a relatively small amount to donate to charity independently. In addition, a separate larger amount may be set aside for all the family members (for example, siblings or cousins) to give away as a collective unit – so that they will be required to discuss and agree together on the organization receiving the donation. Many organizations encourage children’s participation in philanthropic activities and welcome the younger members to visit their facilities and even volunteer – often a terrific way to unite family members as they work together toward a common goal. For more substantial donations, particularly ones in which the family name will be recognized, involving the whole family can help instill a sense of pride in the family legacy. So long as the elder generation does not assert too much oversight or control over the program, family philanthropy typically is an extremely positive experience for the younger generation.
Consider the experience of a married couple with three children, ages 11, 13 and 18. They provide $1,000 annually to each of their children to give away on their own. They also set aside $5,000 annually for their children to give away together. The couple allows their children to explore their own passions and helps facilitate the group discussion to accommodate the different age ranges of their children and their different communication styles. In the first year, after visiting and volunteering at multiple charitable organizations, the 11-year-old and 13-year-old give their $1,000 to a local animal shelter, and the 17-year-old decides to give his $1,000 to a micro-lending organization.
As a collective gift, the three children discuss the family’s values and vision with their parents and decide to give the entire $5,000 to a cancer research organization, in the name of their grandfather who had died in his early 50s from cancer. For the upcoming year, the couple allows their three children to decide how to invest the $8,000 in annual funds for the family philanthropy program. If the investments do well, they will have more to give away; but if they take too much risk and make bad investment decisions, they will have less to give away. It’s a real-life lesson, administered with care.
The right giving approach is different for each family. Ultimately, however, family philanthropy helps younger family members learn both independence (how to be self-sufficient and self-supporting) and interdependence (how to be emotionally, economically, ecologically, and morally responsible to other family members). With such an overwhelmingly positive impact, we believe that family philanthropy should be a top consideration for every family beginning a journey toward healthy governance.

Getting Started in Family Philanthropy

When it comes to that first family meeting, a good place to start is by asking each member of the family to address the following very specific who, what, when, where, why and how questions:

  • Who do we want to be as a family?
  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • When should we start?
  • Where do we want to end up?
  • Why do we care?
  • How are we going to get there?

To maintain a strong family philanthropy program over time, the program should have the following four components:

  1. Choose philanthropic projects based on shared family values.
  2. Encourage proactive participation from family members and shared decision-making.
  3. Define goals, measure and review performance, and evaluate success.
  4. Continually learn from experience to improve in the future.

Justin Miller is a Partner and National Director of Wealth Planning at Evercore Wealth Management. He can be contacted at

1 Dunn EW, Aknin LB, Norton MI, “Spending money on others promotes happiness,” Science, Vol. 319, Issue 5870, pp. 1687-1688 (Mar 21 2008); Harbaugh W, Mayr U, Burghart D, “Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations,” Science, Vol. 316, Issue 5831, pp. 1622-1625 (Jun. 15, 2007).
2 Layous K, Nelson SK, Oberle E, Schonert-Reichl KA, Lyubomirsky S, “Kindness counts: prompting prosocial behavior in preadolescents boosts peer acceptance and well-being,” PLoS One, 7(12): e51380 (Dec. 26, 2012).
3 “Women Give 2013: New Research on Charitable Giving by Girls and Boys,” Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indiana University, Women’s Philanthropy Institute (Dec. 2013).

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