The 3 Real Reasons Your Family Foundation Needs a Succession Plan


I’d like to bring your attention to a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, and one that may seem a bit morbid at first glance. I call it the “Three Real Reasons Your Family Foundation Needs a Succession Plan.” Trust me, it’s not as grim as it sounds. In fact, I’ve thrown in a bit of humor to lighten the mood.

Reason #1 You’re Not Going to Live Forever (sorry, but it’s true)

In 7th grade, my science teacher told us we didn’t have to do our homework or even come to school. The only thing we HAD to do was die. While that lesson initially shocked us, it was a powerful reminder of life’s inevitability. So, dear philanthropist, you may have 40 years, 40 months, or 40 weeks left, but eventually, you’ll need to answer the question: Who’s going to make decisions about our philanthropy when I’m no longer around? A foundation succession plan will help you answer that question and put it into motion.

Reason #2 You still want to have a say when you’re no longer around

After all the work you’ve put into creating your foundation, it’s only natural to want to have a say in its future direction. A foundation succession plan ensures that your funding, values, and decision-making processes are passed on to the next generation in a manner that aligns with your vision. It also allows you the opportunity to create flexibility so that future generations can navigate change, tackle problems, and leverage opportunities we cannot imagine today.

Reason #3 You don’t want to screw up your family

Creating a legacy is wonderful. But not if it leads to family infighting. A lack of foundation succession planning can leave your loved ones second-guessing your intentions, or worse, fighting amongst themselves over how the foundation should be run. To prevent these fractures in your family, take the time to develop a plan, clarify your values, and establish what you’d like for the future of your foundation.

One key mistake to avoid:

When developing your foundation’s succession plan, avoid the mistake of trying to direct your foundation from the grave. While a succession plan is crucial, it should include room for future generations to learn, grow, and experiment. Allow them the freedom to develop their own philanthropic muscles and leadership experiences, including their failures.

Here’s an example: I’ve advised several family foundations where the donor named in their will the specific individuals they wanted to join the board, and in what order. In all instances, long after the donor had passed away those individuals were no longer connected to the family or the foundation, were elderly, or were no longer interested in joining the board. Instead of dictating board member choices, offer criteria and guidance to help the next generation of leaders make informed decisions.

By addressing the three real reasons for a foundation succession plan, you’ll not only secure your legacy but also set your family foundation up for continued success long after you’re gone. So, let’s confront our mortality with a touch of humor and a plan to ensure our philanthropic endeavors thrive well into the future.

Want to learn how to create your foundation succession plan? Join me for a free, virtual workshop, “The Simplified Succession Plan: Your Foundation’s Untapped Superpower.”


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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