November 02, 2015
In my experience, accumulated over the course of a professional career working with and observing philanthropy and philanthropists, I believe there is a strong argument to be made for multi-generational philanthropy based on the notion that wealth accumulated over multiple generations or through the extraordinary success of one generation ideally should be used to build social capital with long-term, recurring benefits.
Paraphrasing Warren Buffett, a philanthropist-friend once told me that he intended to leave enough for his children and grandchildren so that they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.
Creating a legacy of shared family giving is one of the best available ways of preparing future generations for leadership roles in their communities, based on an understanding that inherited wealth is not only a means for personal gratification but carries with it a responsibility for advancing the public good.
There are of course legitimate first-generation concerns about whether their children's values and charitable priorities might well diverge from their own. And the jury is certainly out as to whether members of the "entitled generation" now coming into their own will share their postwar, baby boomer parents' commitment to collective responsibility and sacrificial giving.
There is reassuring news, though, for those concerned about passing on charitable assets for their children to steward. Not only is there much that can be done to train the next generation in the art of philanthropy and social responsibility, but the process can produce enormous psychic benefits for both generations and bring families together around a core of shared values while respecting diverse generational interests and priorities.