Skip to main content

NCFP is a guest author and contributor to our Outside Perspectives Series.

We recently reached out to the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) to share their unique insights. As a network of philanthropic families committed to a world that is vibrant, equitable, and resilient, NCFP helps achieve greater impact with their giving.

Families have many goals for their philanthropy: to meaningfully contribute to positive social change, foster a spirit of generosity in family members, serve as “glue” that strengthens their connections, and create a legacy. For many families, a family foundation—a collective entity that provides a unifying experience—is core to the achievement of these goals. Yet as families become more complex over time, so too does their philanthropy: more people, more philanthropic interests, and more charitable vehicles to address those interests. The family foundation becomes one part of a family philanthropy system.

In new research from the National Center for Family Philanthropy, authors Ashley Blanchard and Wendy Ulaszek explore the factors that support a “successful” family philanthropy for those who aspire to have generational continuity in their giving (with success defined as philanthropy that is impactful, strengthens their relationships, and provides a rewarding experience for participants). They found that successful family philanthropy requires the creation of a robust charitable giving “system” to provide outlets for families’ increasingly diverse philanthropic interests. The families that most successfully perpetuated a collective family foundation over generations established different vehicles for different purposes and had firm boundaries around those earmarked for collaborative giving and those for individual giving. Conversely, the families that struggled had less clearly defined purposes for their philanthropic vehicles–and that ambiguity grew into a source of significant tension over time.

Additional findings include:

  • Collaborative family foundations provide a more rewarding experience for participants. While the vast majority of participants enjoyed their experience participating in the family foundation, believing that it increased their personal giving, and felt closer to their family as a result, participants from more collaborative family foundations had a more positive experience.
  • Individuated family foundations have limited life spans. Family foundations predicated on supporting individual members’ interests do not have sufficient gravitational pull to meaningfully engage family members over time. At best, it is simply not worth members’ effort to take part; at worst, it creates a contentious environment that worsens family relationships.
  • Satisfaction with the family foundation is not dependent on it reflecting personal interests or geography. A common assumption is that to engage family members, family foundations must adapt to reflect their expanding interests and locations. Our research indicates that is not the case: family members were just as satisfied with their experience when the philanthropy reflected their personal interests as when it did not. And participants from place-based family foundations generally had more favorable experiences than their geographically-dispersed peers—regardless of whether they lived where the foundation focused its funding. What engaged and excited these participants was not the ability to fund their personal interests, but rather coming together with their family members to learn and engage in meaningful work.
  • Families can work together in their philanthropy despite ideological differences. The growing ideological divisions felt throughout society were experienced by the families in our sample. That said, a number of families in our sample with ideologically diverse members were able to collaborate in their family foundation by being intentional about design and management, seeking out areas of common ground and relying on venues outside of the family foundation to address giving that was likely to be divisive.

For additional findings and details, the executive summary and full report can be accessed here. If you have any questions about how to put these findings to work in your philanthropy, please contact NCFP.

Want to contribute to our Outside Perspectives Series and share your philanthropic insights? Write to us at for a chance to be featured in an upcoming blog!

Want to learn more about the ways we support private foundations?
Whether you are looking for support for your existing foundation or want to create a private foundation, our philanthropic specialists are here to help. To learn more, schedule a call with us or reach us at 800-839-0054. Together, let’s #begiving.

Back to Blog


The National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) helps families realize the purpose and potential of philanthropy for meaningful impact. We promote learning and action through our community, programs, and services. We build knowledge and expertise to support your philanthropic journey. More information can be found at