The process of emerging from a long, gray winter is a cause for celebration. Extra sunlight and the reintroduction of the stunning colors of nature are also extraordinarily energizing. I suppose that is why some take to spring cleaning. Since I am rarely inspired to clean, I personally prefer to take the energy and the inspiration to renew the vibrancy and sense of purpose of my work.
I hope you might also take some time this season to renew the values, the vision and the vibrancy of your own philanthropic work. I have a few suggestions for how that might happen from the very simple to the more ambitious. I sincerely believe that taking time for these kinds of activities can renew the commitment of your trustees and staff, can inspire the younger generations of your family, and can spark new ideas and new support for the causes you support.
Have just a few minutes at the beginning of the next board meeting? Start by asking each person present:
- What is it about the foundation/fund/giving that you most value?
- What past grant or accomplishment of the family’s giving are you most proud of?
- What is it about the work of the family’s philanthropy that motivates you to participate?
Maybe you can extend that introduction to an hour or more to have a real conversation about what you hope to accomplish over the coming year to truly advance your legacy and mission:
- What strengths or assets do you have to accomplish your current objectives?
- What do you need to improve, change or build on to be as successful as you imagine?
- How might you pursue and achieve your goals?
There are any numbers of ways to refresh and renew your philanthropic work.
- Look backward so you can move forward. Consider charting your charitable history as a family or foundation. Interview senior family members. Gather photographs and documents that mark key moments in your history. Record – in writing, on video, or with audio – what you find out. There are lots of resources out there to help you but you can, as so many have, do this on your own. It’s also a great activity for the younger members of the family. Set them on the path to discovery and have them present to the whole family. It’s a wonderful way to have them understand what this is and why it means so much to your family. It can also be an important launching point for what you want to accomplish going forward. The Family Philanthropy Online Knowledge Center has lots of examples of how families have done this work as well as the results of their efforts.
- Invite a speaker to a board or family meeting or consider commissioning some thought papers from those you respect and admire most. Possible resource persons include your grantees, community members and experts in your program areas. What are they hoping to accomplish over the next year or so? How can you learn from their expertise and enthusiasm?
Maybe you can set aside a few hours or you have an upcoming board retreat to plan?
If you manage your family’s philanthropy through a foundation, I highly recommend you explore using the National Center’s Pursuit of Excellence process. Based on our Generations of Giving research and book, tested by your colleagues, and supported by a cadre of some 30 trained consultants around the country, Pursuit of Excellence helps your board articulate your strengths, identify those areas you would like to improve, and develop a plan for doing just that. It strengthens the shared understanding of board members, your governance practices and processes, and the overall performance of the foundation. You’ll have solid data on the common practices of family foundations as well as information on what philanthropic organizations have set as standards at your fingertips. But, most importantly, Pursuit of Excellence has been developed to encourage you to assess strengths and opportunities, set your performance standards, and chart a personal course toward excellence.
Whether you take a few minutes at an upcoming meeting or give yourself the luxury of several hours for a guided conversation on the future, leap into spring. You’ll be glad you shed the gray and inspired a more colorful – and more meaningful – charitable commitment.