Philanthropy and your Family Business

Summary: As the owners of a family business, you can choose what you want to do with your family business and wealth. Many family businesses owners choose to give back to the community through philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, or impact investing. Here’s what your family needs to consider to do this well.

Giving back is a priority for most of the family businesses we know. Primarily, they do so to make the world a better place. Besides that altruistic motivation, many family businesses see other benefits to their social contributions. Among the benefits are these:

In these ways, philanthropy can help you sustain a multigenerational enterprise. There’s nothing wrong with having several sources of motivation for giving. We believe that society benefits most when the value that people see in giving back goes beyond pure altruism. If the perceived value is core to your objectives rather than peripheral to them, you will be more likely to sustain your philanthropy over time. Moreover, if the nonaltruistic benefits of philanthropy can only be achieved when you execute the benevolent action well, then your acknowledged self-interest is more likely to motivate you to conduct the philanthropy as effectively as possible.

Regardless of your motivation, there are three main avenues for accomplishing your giving goals:

Take the time to identify your philanthropic objectives, including how giving back can help you accomplish the goals you set in your Owner Strategy. Then ensure that the resources you are deploying through your family, business, and investments align with those objectives. But be careful. Because philanthropy involves core values, it can also touch on sensitive topics. When a CCC Alliance survey of the more than one hundred members of its network of family companies asked, “In the broad range of family activities where your family office engages, list three activities that create family harmony and three that create dissension,” charitable foundations or philanthropy appeared on both lists (a).

a. Barney Corning and Laird Pendleton of CCC Alliance.

*Adapted from the Harvard Business Review Family Business Handbook by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer. Pages 102-103.