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Harnessing the Power of Multigenerational Philanthropy

By Alison Spencer, WFMN Strategic Communications Intern

Building gender equity takes all of us.

As an intern with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFMN), I’ve seen firsthand how powerful it can be when multiple solutions and partners come together to create pathways to economic opportunity, safety, and equal leadership for all women and girls in our state. In order to change people’s attitudes, shift policies, and transform institutions and systems to create a world of equal opportunity for women and girls, we must look beyond institutions and organizations to create gender and racial equity. Individuals and families play a critical role in changing culture, and I’m learning that there’s no better asset than multigenerational philanthropy in the fight against inequities that span generations.

But what is multigenerational philanthropy? Beyond simply making a charitable transaction, multigenerational philanthropy has taught me to think differently about my communities and my role within them. For me, and my mother, Val Spencer, a member of the WFMN’s Board of Trustees, multigenerational philanthropy plays a vibrant and crucially important role in our family life.

Valerie and Alison Spencer

Over the years, we’ve come to understand philanthropy as a process, a collaboration, and an ongoing discussion. We voice our interests and consider ways in which we can support the causes important to each of us. Through regular meetings and frequent conversations, the ideals of philanthropy and responsibility pass from parent to child. It is, at its heart, a sharing of values. “When I think about a legacy,” my mother said, “in addition to wealth, we hope to pass on the practice of giving and of being in service,” creating a new generation of philanthropists striving to make the world a better place.

How We Got Started

Growing up, philanthropy had no presence in my mom’s life, and though her family had the means, they did little to engage with community. And so, it wasn’t until her first job out of college, at Dain Bosworth, that she had her first memorable experience in feeling of service to the world. Her boss, then the president of the company, shared his expectation that she run a Junior Achievement program at a local school. She had never taught financial literacy or entrepreneurial education to students but dove in and thoroughly enjoyed the program. Then, her mother-in-law, Harriet Spencer, encouraged her to donate to organizations, which opened my mom’s eyes to giving. Once the first seeds of philanthropy were planted, they continued to grow. As time went on and her giving grew, she came to appreciate the importance of service and the value of including her children in the process, even at a young age.

That is how, at the age of 10, along with my older sister and younger brother, our family of five began discussing the ideas of community, causes, and giving. Setting aside a small pool of money in a foundation we named Broadwaters, my parents allowed each of us to suggest two organizations we wanted to support. Initially, our parents helped us connect the dots between the activities we loved and nonprofits that aligned.

From left to right: Katie Spencer (daughter), Ed Spencer (husband), Valerie Spencer as a recipient of the 2014 Catalyst for Change award, and Jeremy Harkey (son-in-law).

For me it was kids, for Katie it was international development, and for Teddy, who has Down syndrome, it was Special Olympics. He loved participating in Special Olympics sports, from track and field to flag football. Our family foundation allowed us to discuss his passion and encourage him to do more in support of the Special Olympics. As my mom said, seeing and hearing this process, even at a young age, helped “frame giving in a way that was more tangible and helped [us] see how we could get involved in the causes that interested us.” And sure enough, in time, each of us began to take great ownership over the process, sharing our own opinions on where we wanted to allocate our giving and why.

Sharing the Benefits

The benefits of multigenerational philanthropy are boundless, for any family and for the community that benefits. The development of a common outlook on life and shared values strengthens family ties in a way that is unique and lasting. Sharing conversations about giving back allows individuals to feel both thankful and motivated to share one’s wealth in a meaningful way. When done consistently, and with regular conversations, philanthropy becomes more integrated with everyday life and influencing both professional and personal decisions. I know that in my time as a teacher and at the Foundation, my commitment to public service stems, in large part, from my parents’ dedication to multigenerational philanthropy. It also creates a feeling of hope for the future that, despite changing political climates, the next generation also carries a will and drive to give.

Making Multigenerational Giving Your Own

Multigenerational philanthropy can take many forms, from volunteering at a nonprofit to sitting on an organization’s board. As for my family, we chose to create our own foundation that offers financial support to organizations throughout our communities. With so many options and avenues, it can feel like an overwhelming task. But opening a donor advised fund at the Women’s Foundation provides an ideal means to establish the practice of multigenerational philanthropy. Donor advised funds are like charitable savings accounts within the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota that allow you to make grant recommendations to your favorite nonprofit organizations at your convenience.

With a donor advised fund, you also receive an immediate tax deduction, with the ability to donate any time: Donations receive the most favorable tax treatment because the Women’s Foundation is a public charity. You can also eliminate capital gains tax for gifts of appreciated securities. Gifts to donor advised funds are tax-deductible at the time they are made, and grants can be recommended from the fund by the donor (or person designated by the donor) at any time.

Regardless of how you participate in giving, the practice of multigenerational philanthropy is certain to have a positive impact on your family. For me and my family, it has placed community and giving at the center of our family values and empowered each generation to commit to improving the world in which we live.

For more information, or to discuss how a donor advised fund may help you and your family reach a philanthropic goal, please contact Saanii Hernandez, Vice President, at | 612.236.1807.

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