Philanthropy by Design - Part Two

It’s never too early to teach children the power of giving—and adult children are never too old to relearn.

By Randy Fox interviews Rod Zeeb

Key Takeaways:

  • Listening and communication are keys to successful giving.
  • Advisors and nonprofits must be honest about the biases they have and learn to overcome them.
  • Children as young as five or six can be introduced to the power of giving.
  • Philanthropy can help bring families closer together. It’s okay if a family has a main philanthropic mission that not everybody agrees with.

READER NOTE—In Part One of this interview, Zeeb introduced the concept of a philanthropist by design and how advisors and charitable organizations can do more to understand that successful giving starts by tapping into the donor’s passions—not the funding needs of the organization.

Here, Zeeb talks about the next generation and the right ways (and ages) to get kids involved.

Randy Fox: Let’s talk about the next generation a little bit and how to get the kids involved. Where do you start and at what ages, and then how do you step up as they get older?

Rod Zeeb: Children can start at really, really young ages. It doesn’t have to be formalized philanthropy. For instance, my son, Ryan, has a son, JD, who started giving when he was five or six. He was playing T-ball, and Ryan was trying to get him to understand the concept of philanthropy and helping other people. Ryan was talking to JD and said, “I want you to think about what we can do to help someone else.” JD had a kid on his T-ball team [who] didn’t have a mitt, so he was borrowing a glove from everybody else. Ryan and JD went [out] and bought a glove and gave it to the kid. Just that concept of helping someone else and getting the adrenaline rush of seeing the difference you’re making in somebody’s life can start really early.

Fox: Great example. Any other suggestions?

Zeeb: Next, giving kids a small amount of money and letting them decide what to do with it. I had one client [who] started when the kids were, I think, six and eight, and they each received $500 to give away. They had to do research, and they had to bring it to the grant committee, which was mom, dad, grandma and grandpa. They talked about it Thanksgiving afternoon or the day after Thanksgiving.

Children have things that they’re concerned about. One of my clients had a son who was 15 when he started talking about this concept. The boy was concerned that kids at his school couldn’t hear well and that [it] was affecting their grades. He actually created a nonprofit and went to the audiologists in town and got them to volunteer to give [hearing] exams, and then they got him in touch with the people who sell hearing aids for these kids. You don’t have to wait until they’re 15, 18 or even 20 years old. You can start early, and the earlier you start, the more they’ll start identifying things that are important to them. By the time they’re in their teens, they can be pretty serious about it.

Fox: What happens when Generation Two in a family is already in their 20s or maybe even their 30s?

Zeeb: If they’re in their 20s and 30s, those are kind of interesting years because normally they’re just getting started; they’re having their own budgeting issues. They have to pay rent and things like that that they didn’t have to do before. It’s almost like you’re starting over. It’s like when they were little and you were giving them small opportunities to make a difference. But it makes it easier in terms of the family situation because there are limited resources, and so together they can make a bigger impact than they would have been able to do separately. So if as a group, if there are two or three siblings, they can decide together [about] a couple of things that they really want to make a difference on, then by pooling their money they can do something that will really make a difference rather than just give a little bit to different charities. In many ways, you use the same process with those in their 20s and 30s that you use with teens.

Fox: That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and it makes perfect sense. These sound like families that all get along fairly well. What about families that are in disharmony?

Zeeb: A lot of times, if the family is in disharmony, there is usually a more homogenous part of the family and one or two [who] are off to the side. In those situations, if we can find something that is a passion for the ones [who] are kind of out of the center, or at least feel like they’re out of the center, if we can find something that’s a passion for them and even just okay for everyone else and use that as our target, it brings the family together. That’s because the children who always felt like they were on the outside suddenly feel like they’re on the inside, and it’s helping everybody. What [they] can’t do is say we’re just going to take a vote and the majority rules. When that happens, the person on the outside, or the little kids [who] are on the outside, will feel even more disenfranchised. But if somehow we can focus on something that they’re really interested in, you can bring harmony back into the family.

Fox: I think two things are really important if a family centers around philanthropy. One is that philanthropy in and of itself can help the family communicate and heal some of the old stuff that they haven’t been able to heal before. Second, it’s okay if a family has a main philanthropic mission that not everybody agrees with, and that if you allow the next generation the freedom to select things that they’re interested in themselves, that you’re empowering them and you’re letting them know that you believe in their ability to make a good decision. It’s a very effective way of helping young adults mature.

Zeeb: Sometimes as you get more into the “for what purpose” questions—why is it that you’re really into this?—you’ll find that they have some of the same basic targets even though they’re doing it different ways.

Do you remember the young woman [who] came and spoke to AIP about three or four years ago and whose great-grandfather had the patent for barbed wire? Anyway, they had a large foundation, and each generation got a certain amount of money to give away, so the kids were all giving a lot of money to a very liberal think tank organization and grandma was giving a lot of money to a very conservative think tank organization. That was causing friction because grandma was just negating them. But as they started talking about it, they realized that both generations wanted their ideas out. They talked about their ideas and debated. Now the foundation sponsors a debate between the two organizations. Sometimes if you get deeper into what is behind the passion, there may be some synergy that we didn’t realize existed.

Fox: A lot of times we don’t take the time to really understand the other person’s reason, and when we understand the reason, we find it’s a similar reason that we have except the way the other person is approaching the problem is different from our approach.

Zeeb: Right.

Fox: That’s really interesting, Rod. Anything you want to say in wrapping up the philanthropist by design idea?

Zeeb: I think from both standpoints—the advisor or the nonprofit—if you’re going to get into this, you have to put your own biases aside. It really is all about where the client wants to go and then finding [the way]. If you have your own biases, they tend to filter and now no longer are you getting the passions of the client. You’re getting their passions that are close enough to yours.

Fox: You have either biases or solutions. Advisors and nonprofits all have hidden agendas. We just want to get them out there and say, “Just do this,” and the second we do that, we corrupt the process a little bit.

Zeeb: Yes. Doug Carter has a great saying [that] revelation stops when presentation starts. If we jump in too soon, we miss some of the greatest opportunities because we cut off their revelations.

Fox: That’s why there are entire courses on listening now, just learning how to listen. You would think we know how to do it, but it’s still something that’s a challenge for many of us.

Rod, thanks so much for this. This is really great stuff, and I look forward to our next one as well.

Zeeb: Thank you very much.

About the Interviewer

Randy Fox is editor in chief of the Planned Giving Design Center and is the regional representative of the
Charitable Giving Resource Center.

About the Interviewee

Rod Zeeb is the co-founder and CEO of The Heritage Institute and co-developer of The Heritage Process™. The Heritage Institute provides training in the discipline of heritage planning and professional certification in The Heritage Process.