A successful businessman and philanthropist, who had run his foundation with his wife for many years, determined that he needed to design a succession strategy. The philanthropist sought to protect his longstanding leadership role until he left the board of his own volition as well as to ensure that his children and grandchildren would cement the foundation's legacy. These goals were challenging for him because the children and grandchildren (15 in total) did not share all his passions, often disagreed on matters of politics and policy, and had little history of successfully working together.
Our approach in a complicated family scenario is to produce practical deliverables for how the foundation will function going forward in two main areas: 1) internal board operations and governance and 2) grantmaking. Through addressing these two areas, we uncover the points of friction and solve those points using clear policies and rules as opposed to mediating agreement on the issues themselves.
In this case, our first and most important step was to conduct one-on-one interviews with the funder and his wife for several hours each. From this, we generated a donor intent letter that reviewed the philanthropist's personal history, significant experiences, values for his philanthropy and his family, and his philanthropic pursuits. It served as the underpinning for all future discussions of how the foundation should function with respect for the founder who made the philanthropy possible.
Over the course of several months, we embarked on a course of interviews with key stakeholders and generated facilitation documents for a private family retreat. At the conclusion of the family retreat and secondary meetings with the family, we generated customized set of procedures—the most important ones were as follows: (1) strict grant guidelines to limit potential family feuds about the foundation's core grantmaking areas; (2) appropriate discretionary and "community grants" giving policies to provide a "pressure valve" for board members' personal interests; (3) a board operations manual and director handbook that detailed governance rules on such important topics as board rotation, term and eligibility for the current and future generations; and (4) a customized committee structure to ensure that all family board members retain ownership and feel invested in the foundation.
Today, the family operates with little friction and with great personal investment in the procedures they collectively developed with our assistance. The philanthropist is confident that his wishes will be carried out thoughtfully, and that the family will remain engaged in this philanthropic endeavor for years to come.