Philanthropy initiatives lead by successful businessmen and entrepreneurs have been emerging across the globe lately, and the media highlight these cases regularly. Philanthropy is a positive and a much needed instrument for society as a whole, on account of the increasingly complex challenges to society which are sometimes neglected by the public sector.
As I think about these challenges that the world is encountering today, I become more and more interested and fervent about social giving in its many different forms, not only personally but also professionally. It also impacts how I understand my role as a family business consultant and researcher.
Us professionals in the field of family business are very privileged to work with families in businesses. They are an excellent fount of resource, especially in terms of talent, the values they live by, business acumen, networking and also capital. All these assets that families bring to the table can contribute much to society and the management of its challenges, not only through their business initiatives but also through their philanthropic actions.
Although we have long seen philanthropy connected with many family firms, today we are experiencing an accelerating proliferation of its practice, with many clients considering the institutionalization of their social giving habits, while others are approaching the philanthropy field for the first time.
Family business consultants and wealth advisors, as trusted confidants, are involved in virtually all aspects of our clients' decision making for the future of the family, the business and their wealth. We must be able to read and connect with their social concerns, even if these are not fully developed or integrated into their thinking at that moment. With this statement I don't mean that we all need to be experts on philanthropy; I mean that we all need to be aware of its importance to our clients, and be able to support them in their first steps of social giving. To do this, we need to be informed and knowledgeable, understanding why social giving is of such interest to the family, and its value to both the family and the business.
Based on my experience, the main dilemmas and concerns individuals and families face when turning to philanthropy are (1) connecting their goals and motivations in order to engage in giving; (2) the decision whether to make philanthropy a family project, or to keep it as a project of a branch or an individual; and (3) if it is to be a collective project, whether philanthropy is connected to the family business or carried out in different areas and by completely different structures.
Other dilemmas are related to how to legally structure its social practices, its governance and leadership; how to properly define the role of values and the importance of them being consistent across philanthropy, family and business activities; and finally, how to accurately assess the social impact the family aims to pursue, and as a consequence, the focus of the philanthropic work.
It is crucial to integrate the discussion of these dilemmas into the initial conversations on philanthropy with the client. Last but not least, a final consideration for family business professionals is that once we understand the charitable goals of our clients, we have to guide them accordingly so that they can benefit from the best resources and expertise available, even if it’s necessary to use additional specialists in particular areas.
Due to our role and the way we assist clients throughout their initial exploration of philanthropy, trusted advisors can either be a driving force, or on the contrary, a restricting force for its practice. I’ve experienced that the way families address these first conversations and reflections about social giving define the course of their long-term engagement and practice of philanthropy.