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Val Spencer’s Bold Approach to Multigenerational Philanthropy

Many Americans find talking about money with family and friends extremely difficult. Val Spencer is not one of those people.

She and her husband, Ed Spencer, have involved their three adult children in conversations about philanthropy since Katie, Alison, and Teddy were in elementary or middle school. In doing so, they have nurtured a multigenerational commitment to philanthropy. They modeled giving time as well as money as each parent served on numerous charitable boards. Val currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Foundation and CommonBond Communities.

Recently, Val and Ed made a significant contribution to Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM). As a board member at WFM and co-chair of the comprehensive campaign there, Val knew she wanted to make a significant gift, including her first planned gift. Val says: “I wanted my family to experience Gloria’s presentation about the campaign. Supporting the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has been an important part of my life through volunteering and giving for decades. I don’t want this just to be ‘Mom’s thing.’ The issues are too important, and my hope is that they will also be supporters in the future.”

So Val invited her family in Florida, Minnesota, and Colorado to join a Zoom presentation by Gloria Perez, president and CEO of WFM, to learn about WFM, discuss the campaign, and invite a gift. The campaign welcomes both current gifts as well as estate plan gifts. After further discussion with their children, Val and Ed gave sizable gifts of both types.

Philanthropy had not been emphasized in her family as she grew up. She says: “In my formative years I was away at boarding school, and then off to college.” She met Ed at Williams College. When they moved to Minnesota to be near Ed’s family, she learned how much philanthropy was a part of the Spencer family culture.

“When I was a young adult, as soon as I learned more about the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, I knew this would be a place where I wanted to be involved. I was energized by the work in creating equality for girls and women and bringing them dignity. It wasn’t just about doing research on issues. It was about creating strategies, taking action, and trying to change systems.”

Val has served on the board at WFM twice—from 2004-2014 and beginning anew in 2017. She has served in countless ways including on strategic planning, development, and audit committees.

This is not the first time the Spencers have included their children in philanthropic decision-making. Years ago, when their children were young Val and Ed invited each to determine where specific amounts of money from the family should be given. They talked together about community, causes, and giving to make a difference.

For their children, this decision-making led to volunteer involvement and interest in societal issues. Their son Teddy has Down Syndrome, and he directed gifts to organizations close to his heart: his school, Special Olympics, and The Down Syndrome Association of MN, where he is currently co-chair of the board. Both Katie and Alison are also deeply involved in nonprofit work. The Spencers created a family foundation involving their children as officers and decision-makers. More recently, they shifted their family foundation to become a donor advised fund at the Minneapolis Foundation, lessening the work required of the family. “Now we get to focus on the fun aspects of giving rather than the administration,” Val said.

When their daughter, Alison, served as a strategic communications intern for the Women’s Foundation in 2018, she wrote about their family’s focus:

“The benefits of multigenerational philanthropy are boundless, for any family and for the community. […] The development of a common outlook on life and shared values strengthens family ties in a way that is unique and lasting. […] With regular conversations, philanthropy becomes more integrated with everyday life, influencing both professional and personal decisions. […] It creates a feeling of hope for the future that, despite changing political climates, the next generation also carries a will and drive to give.”

Gloria Perez, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, says, “Val’s longtime partnership as a board member, fundraiser, and generous supporter has been a powerful example of generosity, passion, and inspired leadership. Her intentional commitment to involve her family in giving is a testament to her living legacy.”

Get Involved

To learn how you can leave a legacy while helping empower girls and women in Minnesota, please contact Polina Montes de Oca at 612-236-1834 or

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