How to make giving back a family affair

Inspire your entire family to join in your giving efforts with a charitable legacy.

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  • Charitable Giving
  • Charitable Giving Account
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Key takeaways

Ways to add real power to your giving:

  • Inspire the entire family to join you.
  • Support organizations that truly matter to your family.
  • Create a family giving plan and stick to it.
  • Donate current earnings—which allows the principal to grow and last beyond your lifetime.

Pat and Dick Johnston, both in their mid-70s, moved from Georgia to Raleigh, North Carolina, in the 1980s. After a few years they relocated again to an island off the Carolina coast to be closer to their daughter and first grandchild. After 7 more grandchildren were born, they decided to purchase a second home in Asheville, North Carolina, with their son Rich, so they would be close to his family. Today their son lives in the upper part of the house with his son, and Dick and Pat have remodeled the lower level to create a second home for themselves.

In 2014, they took their love of family to a new level. When a private equity firm invested in Dick's supply chain logistics company, he and his wife decided it was time to "quit flunking retirement" and focus on involving their kids and grandkids in building a charitable legacy with the proceeds from the sale of the business—one that they could pass on to the future generations of their family.

"Giving back—even in small amounts—is a family mission, something that’s integral to our lives," says Pat, whose parents had spent a year working as lay missionaries in Liberia and passed on their passion for helping those less fortunate to Pat and her family. "We give our time and money and in return we get back the opportunity to spend time together as a family and create lasting memories."

Taking concrete steps to achieve their vision

Once the investment in the company was complete, the Johnstons donated a significant portion of the proceeds to a Fidelity Charitable® Giving Account® which makes it easy to manage their charitable contributions and recommend grants on their timetable. Their goal is for the earnings to be distributed to several charitable organizations each year, but leave the principal mainly untouched to allow for sustained and lasting charitable support.

Setting their plan in motion took guidance

Dick and Pat saw their Giving Account as an opportunity to coach the family on how to give responsibly. In particular, they wanted the grandchildren to play an active role in planning and recommending grants. They believed this collaboration would bring their grandchildren together and empower the older ones to take a lead.

Working with a Fidelity Charitable representative, Pat and Dick developed a concrete plan and mission statement to keep them on track, and make their giving more meaningful for them and the communities they support.

Passing the baton

Dick and Pat appointed the 2 oldest grandchildren, Ellis III, then age 22, and Carryl, then age 20, to leadership positions of this family endeavor, while relegating their own 2 daughters and son to backseat positions. Their children understand the wisdom behind this decision. While the elders may nudge and coach behind the scenes, they refrain from dictating choices. They respect that the children will have their own charitable causes, different than theirs.

Giving became a family affair

Every year-end period the family now holds an annual meeting to develop a charitable beneficiary list. All 15 family members get together: Pat and Dick, their 3 children and 2 spouses, and 8 grandchildren. In preparation for the meeting, the children are asked to visit charities that interest them and review proposals. The family kicks off the meeting by talking about prior outcomes and lessons learned. Afterward, the older members of the family discuss how much in total to recommend in grants for the year.

Then the grandchildren propose organizations they'd like to support, explaining why they're worthy causes. Each child makes a case for his or her choice, including timing, amount, and the method of giving they propose. They take it seriously, knowing they're competing against their cousins' proposals. This process helps develop presentation and negotiating skills, and encourages them to stand up for their beliefs.

Some initial grants are as small as $750, but Pat and Dick have always stressed that even smaller amounts can make a difference. As Pat says, "Alone we can help, but together we can do so much more. Imagine how much better the world would be if those who could afford it, gave just $200 a year and a few hours of their time to their favorite cause."

Once grant recommendations have been made, the cousins gather to narrow the field and choose candidates. They then decide the appropriate amount for each recommendation. If the cousins agree, they reconvene the family to present their decisions.

Being involved is satisfying—and effective

Pat and Dick encourage the family to volunteer their time as well to causes that matter to them. The children learn valuable lessons about responsibility and teamwork while engaging in activities they enjoy. Pat and Dick believe there's no better way to become familiar with an organization than meeting the people involved and seeing firsthand how the funds are being used. As Dick says, "Giving back isn't just about generosity and good intentions; it's about having a real effect on people's lives."

Seeing distress up close makes it hit home

Over the years, the family has been actively involved in mission work and disaster relief efforts. Granddaughter Emery went to Capetown, South Africa, for two weeks with Ubuntu Sports Outreach, a Christian soccer organization. Their mission is to rescue boys and girls from deplorable living conditions and create a safe haven for them while teaching them to play soccer. Sisters Carryl and Graham went on a mission trip to King's Children’s Home in Central America. Emery also wanted to help a friend and others like her who suffered with Type 1 diabetes, so she began working for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Volunteering together brings a family closer

Working together, family members share many diverse interests. The entire family joined relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Their oldest grandson, Ellis III, set up a multigenerational work group to help with demolition to aid rebuilding efforts. Dick and Pat and the kids all jumped on the bandwagon, tearing out destroyed plaster and sheetrock. Dick is still working on storm relief, raising funds and leading work efforts in Louisiana and North Carolina. Granddaughter Carryl started the nonprofit Clothed In Love when she was 14 years old. Her mission went beyond providing warm clothes to at-risk girls—she wanted to help build their self-esteem by providing them stylish clothes. Friends joined in, asking other friends, sorority sisters, and local businesses for donations. This grew out of her parents Leslie and Ellis Jr.'s support of the homeless. Leslie and Ellis Jr.'s youngest daughter Morelle is supporting 2 efforts using yoga to reach children locally and in India. Ellis III is passionate about Scouting and, along with Granddad Dick, is initiating work to improve training of Boy Scouts in sustainable issues impacting the environment in coastal North Carolina.

Another cause dear to the family is taking care of veterans who've served our country. Dick and Pat are involved every year with a wounded vets weekend getaway at their island home. Currently Dick and Pat's son Rich, a psychologist, works with a group of veterans in Asheville, North Carolina, helping them readjust after returning home. Their granddaughter Graham, along with her mom Leslie, started working with Canines for Service. This organization provides service dogs to veterans, making a substantial difference in many lives.

Son-in-law DJ and his mom have been very involved in a program for jobs for the homeless, and his daughter Grayson is now supporting this work. Kenan, Laura and DJ's daughter, is supporting various efforts, including Compassion International, and encourages her friends' input and involvement. Grandson Jay is now supporting a meals program for school children in Asheville, a subject that he is very compassionate about.

Creating real impact takes focus

Dick and Pat want the children to become as passionate about giving as they are. They expect the children to be looking, thinking, and planning throughout the year, so they can make thoughtful, educated decisions. The children rely on top research organizations suggested by Fidelity Charitable to make sure their choices aren’t just worthy causes, but also well-run organizations.

Assessing your effectiveness makes it more rewarding

Dick stresses how important it is to get together to review and enjoy the results. He wants the children to think of giving as rewarding, never as an obligation. The family acknowledges how fortunate they are and believes they have a responsibility to give back in fair measure. Dick and Pat hope that as the children strive to keep their "giving back" legacy alive, they'll succeed in inspiring their own children and others along the way. There have now been 3 "Family Meeting Weekends" (paid for by the family) in different locations, with fun and exciting outside activities as a family group. This year's plan includes ski time in Colorado.

Family giving provides the opportunity for children to:

  • Explore and develop their own values
  • Work—and make decisions—as part of a team
  • Think about money management and how investments and charitable giving can function together
  • Gather information and analyze data
  • Develop critical thinking, listening, and communications skills
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