6 Steps to Get You Started After Creating a Family Foundation


Starting a family foundation is a major milestone for wealthy families. It allows them to give back to their communities, support causes they care about, and leave a lasting legacy.

However, once the foundation is established, many families find themselves unsure of where to begin. This can lead to confusion and disorganization, causing the family foundation to become ineffective.

For many, it becomes a source of stress instead of a source of joy. If you recently created your family foundation and need a clear path forward, here are six steps to get you started.

Step 1: Identify vision, mission, purpose, values, and funding priorities


The first step in creating a successful family foundation is to clarify the foundation’s vision, mission, purpose, core values, and funding priorities. This involves asking questions such as:

  • “What impact do we want to have?”
  • “What do we want to accomplish in the next three to 10 years?”
  • “Why does our foundation exist (our raison d’être)?”

It also involves determining what causes and issues the foundation will support and setting specific goals for the foundation to achieve. The foundation’s purpose and priorities should align with the family’s values and beliefs and should be reflective of your unique goals and aspirations.

This process can involve all the family members you anticipate playing an active role in the foundation. After all, everyone’s perspectives and opinions are important in shaping the foundation’s mission and values. However, sometimes this is not feasible. It’s okay to begin with the donors and involve family members, such as children, over time.

Many family foundations also seek to engage diverse perspectives, such as from the communities you want to support, in determining the foundation’s goals and priorities.

Step 2: Define your legacy


To create a successful family foundation, it’s crucial to define legacy early. This allows the foundation’s strategy, decisions, and activities to align with and help achieve your desired legacy.

Legacy refers to what remains after the donors are no longer involved, and how the foundation and family will be remembered by future generations. This involves considering what kind of impact you want the foundation to have, and what type of philanthropic family you want to become.

The type of legacy you wish to leave will directly impact operational decisions, such as the level of privacy you desire or the willingness to publicly share your goals, funding achievements, and lessons learned.

Defining legacy will also help you with future succession planning.

Step 3: Identify potential grantees


Once the foundation’s vision, mission, priorities, and desired legacy are established, the next step is to identify exceptional organizations to support within these funding priorities. This involves researching organizations that are making a meaningful impact in the areas of interest to the foundation and assessing their effectiveness.

The foundation should only support organizations that align with its mission and values. Family foundations might choose to support only nonprofits with a proven track record, or they might be willing to take greater risks by providing seed funding to start-up nonprofits and innovative ideas.

Step 4: Create a simple process to manage the foundation


At this stage, philanthropic families can easily fall into the trap of complexifying the simple. What you want to do instead is simplify the complex! Creating a clear, straightforward, and streamlined process to manage the foundation and giving is crucial.

This includes developing a system for grantmaking, determining how often grants will be awarded and how decisions will be made, and setting up a process for monitoring and evaluating the impact of the grants.

It also could include how you will continuously build trusting relationships with grantees, learn, and make course corrections. The foundation should also establish clear policies and procedures for its operations.

Step 5: Clarify roles and responsibilities


Identifying the family members’ and non-family members’ roles and responsibilities in the foundation is also an important step. This involves determining what activities each family member enjoys and can do, and what type of outside help, if any, might be needed to help manage the foundation and grantmaking.

For example, will the donors be the only ones making funding decisions? Who answers the phone and responds to emails when nonprofits inquire about funding opportunities? Will you create a website and who will update it?

It’s important for each member to understand their responsibilities and to feel fulfilled in their role in the foundation. This can help ensure that the foundation operates smoothly and effectively.

You might need to bring in outside help and expertise, such as executive coaching for a family member who will assume the role of executive director, a consulting firm to manage the foundation, or a trusted philanthropy advisor to facilitate family meetings and help you navigate your philanthropic journey.

Step 6: Engage the next generation


Finally, engaging other family members such as your children, grandchildren, siblings, and cousins in the foundation in meaningful and age-appropriate ways is an important step in ensuring the foundation’s longevity. This involves finding ways to involve them in the foundation’s activities, such as grantmaking, that fit within their priorities and interests.

This can help ensure that the foundation continues to thrive and make a positive impact, even after the original family members are no longer involved.

Creating a family foundation can bring immense satisfaction and fulfillment, but it requires careful planning and effort to ensure its success. By clarifying the foundation’s vision, mission, purpose, values, and funding priorities, identifying effective organizations to support, exploring what “legacy” means, creating a clear and simple process for managing the foundation and giving, identifying family members’ roles and responsibilities, and engaging the next generation of your family in meaningful ways, families can make a significant difference in their communities and the world through their giving.

Starting a family foundation is a big commitment, and it can be challenging to know where to begin. However, with the right guidance and support, families can ensure that their foundation is successful and makes a meaningful impact on the issues they care about.

If you recently set up a family foundation and are looking for expert guidance on how to ensure its success, I would be happy to help. I offer free consultations to families who are looking to create a clear path forward for their foundation.

During our call, we will discuss your goals, challenges, and concerns, and work together to develop a plan that meets your needs. If you’re ready to take the first step towards successfully launching your family foundation, please schedule a call with me today. I look forward to talking with you!

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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