Decision-Making: Getting to Yes with Greater Joy - Vario Philanthropy
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Decision-Making: Getting to Yes with Greater Joy Part 1 of 2

Decision-Making: Getting to Yes with Greater Joy

Part 1 of 2

Things weren’t going as planned. Mom had created the family foundation as a way to engage her kids (and one day grandkids!) in philanthropy and build connectivity that she hoped would endure for generations, while also make a measurable mark in the community. She envisioned happy times and a deep bond that can come only through collective difference-making. Instead, there was a strange mix of disengagement, disagreement, and even tension. Something that was meant to be a joyful experience wasn’t hitting the mark. That’s when the family turned to us for help.

As we all know, dynamics at the family dinner table can impact board table dynamics. And one seemingly simple, yet complex dynamic is how families make decisions. Without proactivity, these dynamics can lead to family discord.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Let’s unpack.

Decision-making is primarily driven by four ingredients, each of which is shaped by many deeply held, often unstated, and rarely identical assumptions.

By thoughtfully working through each of these one step at a time, our client developed a model of decision-making for the foundation (and family) where all voices were heard and valued. The result? The foundation became a source of family harmony and pride, with deeper engagement from everyone around the table.

But, how did they get there? This month we’ll explore Values and Purpose. Tune in next month for a dive into Roles and Process.

On Values

Values, which help define our identity and the ways in which we live, have a major influence on our behavior and attitudes. They are the subtle, emotional barometers that guide us. Yet it can be difficult to identify our values because, as the saying goes, a fish doesn’t know he’s in water. Naming our values can help us move our giving from a place of contention to a place of deep alignment.

Getting back to our family foundation, we helped the family uncover and align on a set of shared values for the foundation that honored each member’s individual values and created a common ground that would unite them despite very different cultures and preferences.

Here’s some tips for your family or foundation:

  • First, identify your individual values – Many “values inventories” exist – here’s our Values Reflection Guide where we challenge individuals to articulate the values that drive their living and generosity. This guide is part of our Giving Well Experience where we help donors align their time, skill, and wealth with their values, passion, and legacy. 
  • Next, share these values as a family – together or with a facilitator. Regardless of how different values can be, these conversations always prove rich and meaningful.
  • What values do you have in common? Which values have the power to align your giving and override your individual preferences?
  • Lastly, how will these values guide your giving? What focus areas, grant ideas, or “hows” of giving could follow these values? (Read our article on aligning your giving).

On Purpose

Purpose speaks to questions such as…Why does your foundation exist? What goals do you have for your family, and for your community? What does success look like? Is purpose jointly defined by everyone at the table (leading to higher engagement) or is it defined by a patriarch/matriarch, to be carried out by future generations? Unless clearly stated, family members often develop their own purpose for the foundation, which may be in conflict with other family members.  

In working with the family, we discovered that while mom had funded the foundation with great hopes of engaging her kids, she had some closely held giving goals that her kids weren’t interested in. By redefining purpose together, the family found a sense of mutual engagement and deeper fulfillment. Their collective efforts and pride began to override their individual interests.

Questions to apply in your context:

  • What difference do you hope the foundation makes for your family (i.e., legacy, unity, connectivity, etc.)?
  • What difference do you hope the foundation makes on the issues/causes you care about (i.e., goals for focus areas, outcomes, and how you would measure the change you seek)?  
  • What’s worth sacrificing individual preference/style to achieve?

A suggestionConsider creating strategic giving (majority of giving) and discretionary giving (minority of giving) buckets. Strategic giving reflects shared values and purpose while discretionary giving allows individual family members to support issues/causes that more closely align with their values and giving purpose.

Try out a few of these questions/activities over the next month and see how it goes. Next time, we’ll explore how your decision-making models and processes can be used to drive greater family harmony and fulfillment. We’re happy to help facilitate a meeting to get the conversation going!