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Bridging the gaps in multi-generational family philanthropy

Summer 2023

Differing views within families are nothing new; differing views about nearly anything and everything is centuries old. For generations and generations, common topics of disagreement have included popular culture, politics, religion, and parenting, just to name a few.

Frequently outranking all is money—how it’s made, spent, saved, or not saved.

The way that families talk about and make plans around money is a topic all its own. It’s perhaps never been more relevant than now given these realities: up to four generations living simultaneously; longer lifespans; more willingness to discuss family finances; differing social views; and the desire of older generations to set a good philanthropic example while retaining some control of assets built over many years.

According to figures cited in a May 2023 New York Times article (subscription required), total U.S. family wealth of $38 trillion in 1989 more than tripled to $140 trillion in 2022, with Baby Boomers and Generation X holding 90% of this amount. By 2045, older Americans will pass down a projected $84 trillion to Millennial and Gen X heirs, with $16 trillion transferring by 2033. With evermore wealth circulating, ideas and conflicts about its use are inevitable.

As you work with your multi-generational philanthropic clients, you’ve likely noticed that even a subject as uplifting as philanthropy can lead to lively discussions and heated disagreements. The good news is, there are resources and strategies available to navigate these conversations—even when not everyone is on the same page.

Napa Valley Community Foundation is one such resource.

All over the country, community foundations occupy a unique position in the midst of the unprecedented wealth transfer described above: that of arbiter, guide and even peacemaker among multi-generation families. Our job is to deeply understand the needs of the community (and the nonprofit programs addressing those needs), on the one hand; and to deeply understand the charitable interest areas and values of your clients, on the other.

When we understand the values that drive why people give, we can help guide the conversation back to what matters, and find common ground to help families move forward with their giving, together.

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