Activating Philanthropy – Part 3: Talking to Family About Giving

Editor’s Note: This article is Part Three in our four-part Activating Philanthropy series. In this series, we explore ways to bring your philanthropic ideals into your everyday life, activating the lessons we’ve learned along the way. For the rest of the series, check out Part One: Philanthropy in Daily Routines, Part Two: What It Means to “Call Your Congresswoman”, Part Three: Talking to Family About Giving, and Part Four: How to Start a Giving Circle. 

Talking to family about social giving can sometimes feel like a daunting task — but it doesn’t have to be. (Image Credit: Bewakoof)

Giving can strengthen a relationship between family members — but more often than not, “political talk” can cause major strain at the dinner table. So how do we balance our desire for collaborative philanthropy with not getting into unnecessary tangles with family members?

In today’s iteration of Activating Philanthropy, we’re breaking down that difficult task: how to talk to your family members about philanthropy, even — and especially — when they might prefer not to. 

1. Think about why you want to share your philanthropic goals with your family.

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors offer a three-pronged approach to sharing philanthropic goals with family members. Identify early on what you want your goal is in the conversation: Are you trying to inform, inspire, or involve? 

You may try to inform your family member or friend on issues that are important to you, or campaigns you find particularly interesting or viable. 

If you’re looking to inspire, you want your family member to take a certain action. 

And if you’re looking to involve, you’re hoping to lead by example — perhaps convincing a family member to donate to a foundation you support, or having an open conversation to better align your giving goals as a family. 

2. Identify the best time and place to have the conversation.

There’s a reason we don’t have these conversations at the dinner table. Perhaps your mother would be more active and engaged during a “town hall” discussion with the whole family, while your sister would benefit more from a private phone call. Figure out what works for you and your family member — the last thing you want is for the conversation to come across like an attack.

A great way to open a philanthropic conversation is to talk to your family about what you want your personal legacy to be. This doesn’t have to be a depressing conversation, and it’s not reserved for your older relatives. You can have this conversation early on with children or siblings, and find ways to match your growing giving strategies to your morals and values as time goes on. 

3. Share your experiences based on your goals and your relative’s circumstances.

No two life experiences are the same. What might seem crystal clear to you may be complicated for a relative — and your giving often won’t look the same as theirs. When you start the conversation, think back to what your initial goal was: to inform, inspire, or involve.

If you’re looking to inform, share facts and case studies — if you have clear and accurate data, share that too. Sometimes, numbers are the best way to get your point across.

If you want to inspire, offer action items and possible solutions. Provide examples of trustworthy and cause-based organizations that you’d love your relatives to support. Make it a collaborative conversation, and lead by example — tell stories of your own personal experiences as a philanthropist, fundraiser, or activist, and show how they impacted your own philanthropic ideals.

And if you want to involve others, get creative. This is where those “town hall” style conversations come into play. Often, in matters of legacies and family donations, the decision will be made as a whole, rather than by an individual. Make sure everyone who needs to be involved is invited to contribute to the conversation — and make sure everyone’s voice is heard. 

4. When it’s your turn, listen. 

This part of the conversation is a good time to ask questions about their giving, too — what causes are important to them? What are their social and justice goals for the next five, ten years? Keep the conversation open and collaborative — try not to turn it into a lecture. 

One of the best things about philanthropy is the way it inspires us to take action. There are going to be a lot of emotions in this conversation — don’t let them run away with you. 

5. Make your request.

Be clear about what you’re asking — are you looking for your relative to vote, to sign a petition, to make a donation? Or are you simply trying to open the conversation to be revisited at another time? (Without flying fondue forks.)

Above all, the best way to keep a conversation about philanthropy from ruining Thanksgiving dinner is offering your friend or family member the respect you’d like to get from them. When you’ve made your argument and laid out your facts, it’s time to step back and let your family member make their own decision. 

At the end of the day, conversations surrounding our families’ giving ideals serve to form and strengthen our relationships — and like so many other things in philanthropy, the more we do together, the bigger of an impact we make. 

For more ways to activate philanthropy in your life, check out Part One: Philanthropy in Daily Routines and Part Two: What It Means to “Call Your Congresswoman”. Plus, stay tuned for the last article in our Activating Philanthropy series. Next week, we’re tying the series together with Part Four: How to Start a Giving Circle. This how-to guide will break down the basics of collaborative giving models, and offer advice for starting your own giving circle in your community, friend circle, or workplace.  


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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