Clarifying Your Philanthropic Legacy: A Guide for Families and Foundation Leaders


A philanthropic legacy is what is being left behind in the world after a philanthropist or foundation is no longer around.

By focusing on the lasting difference you want to make, you can create a more purposeful and enduring philanthropic legacy that will continue to inspire and influence positive change for future generations.

As a trusted advisor to a wide range of philanthropic clients, I understand the importance of establishing a clear and impactful philanthropic legacy.

In this blog post, we will explore four key questions that can help clarify your philanthropic legacy and ensure that it continues to thrive for generations to come.

1. How do we want the world to be different when we (or our foundation) are no longer around?


Legacy should define what you want your philanthropy to be remembered for: What do you want to be different in the world as a result of your charitable giving? What are the transformative changes you hope to achieve and how will they be sustained beyond the lifespan of your foundation or personal involvement?

Keep in mind there are many potential legacies of philanthropy, ranging from physical structures to robust fields, strong organizations, field knowledge, improved policies, thriving communities, insights for other foundations, philanthropic involvement of your family, and the future leadership of your current staff.

Consider these questions to help shape your desired legacy:

    • How will the lives of individuals and communities be improved as a result of your efforts?
    • What systemic changes do you hope to drive through your philanthropy?
    • What will be the most significant and enduring contribution of your philanthropic work?

2. How will decisions get made when I am no longer around?


An essential aspect of creating a philanthropic legacy is ensuring that the decision-making process remains consistent and aligned with your values even after you are no longer involved.

To accomplish this, consider the following steps:

    • Develop a succession plan: A well-crafted succession plan outlines how future leaders will be selected and prepared, ensuring a smooth transition and continuity in your philanthropy’s mission and vision.
    • Establish a clear governance structure: A robust board of directors, complete with defined roles, responsibilities, and decision-making processes, is crucial to the ongoing success of your philanthropic efforts.
    • Engage the next generation: If you have a family foundation, involving younger family members in the decision-making process helps preserve your family’s philanthropic values and fosters a culture of giving that can be passed down through generations. If you have staff, consider what talent development opportunities you can create to support their growth.

3. If I could only accomplish ONE thing in the next year, but it would be my legacy at this organization, what would it be?


I love this question because it gets to the heart of what’s most important. There are lots of things you COULD do this year, but if you can only pick ONE, what would it be?

(I asked myself this question about five years ago, and my answer was “Write a book.” That’s what prompted me to write Delusional Altruism!).

Identifying the single most important objective for your philanthropic legacy can help bring clarity and focus to your giving strategy. Reflect on the following to determine your most significant legacy goal:

    • Identify a high-impact opportunity: What is a pressing issue or unmet need that you have the resources and expertise to address effectively?
    • Think about leverage: What could you put into motion today that will have an enduring impact? This could include clarifying your strategy, professionalizing the foundation, strengthening governance, or launching a new funding initiative.
    • Develop a clear, measurable outcome: Define a specific, achievable outcome that will have a lasting impact on your chosen cause or community.

To give you some ideas, here are a few things I helped my coaching clients do after I asked them this question:

    • Develop a succession plan
    • Implement their strategic plan
    • Create term limits for board members
    • Develop a plan to thoughtfully close (sunset) the foundation
    • Terminate ineffective employees and replace them with top talent
    • Strengthen the foundation by streamlining operations

4. What are the top three things I should do next, to set my legacy in motion?

Once you have a clear vision of your philanthropic legacy, it’s crucial to take actionable steps to make it a reality. Pick three activities you can begin immediately to make progress. Here are some essential considerations:

    • Follow the 80-20 rule: As yourself what are the 20% of activities that will deliver the 80% of results toward establishing and living our legacy? Those should be your top priorities.
    • Develop a plan: Create an action plan that outlines your top priorities, identifies tactics to accomplish each, and assigns accountabilities (who is responsible for what, by when).
    • Get help: It’s hard to do this alone. Consider retaining a philanthropy advisor who can help you clarify your legacy, identify your top priorities, create a roadmap, and help you stay accountable for achieving your legacy.

In conclusion, clarifying your philanthropic legacy is a critical step in maximizing the positive impact of your giving.

By answering these four questions, you can better define your vision and develop a focused giving strategy that ensures your philanthropic legacy will thrive for generations to come.

I understand the tremendous opportunity you have to create change – and also how overwhelming it can feel to navigate it. Please don’t hesitate to schedule a call with me so that I can help you gain the clarity you need to make the greatest impact, no matter the circumstances. Click the button below to schedule that call today!

“Kris’ approach is refreshing! It’s the right approach. She makes sure our philanthropy makes sense — to us and our partners, grantees, and community.
” — Sherece West-Scantleberry, Ph.D, President and CEO, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

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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