Janice has worked with a wide range of high net-worth funders, from individuals to family foundations. Some are high profile, while others choose to keep their giving behind-the-scenes. Some come to Janice because they want to encourage greater involvement of their children in their giving, others because their giving has no focus. No matter the motivation, all her clients recognize that having a comprehensive, values-based and easy-to-implement strategy has brought pleasure to their giving and allowed them to make a difference to the people and causes they care about most.
What follows is a client story that shows the various stages of developing an engaging and impactful philanthropy plan. Please note that the Johnstone’s names and some personal details have been altered to protect privacy.
MAKING GIVING A FAMILY AFFAIR
Joe and Marilyn Johnstone started a real estate development company in eastern Canada in the early 1960s. Over the years they became very successful and eventually sold the majority of the business in 2010 and retired to Victoria, BC. The couple still holds a modest portfolio of commercial real estate.
Now in their early 70s, Joe and Marilyn have three children, two daughters and a son, in their 40s. Angie and her husband are both teachers living in Vancouver with their two teenage daughters. Sara is single and a freelance journalist who travels the world for her work. Michael is married to a doctor and lives in Victoria with one young son. He manages the family’s commercial real estate interests.
When Joe and Marilyn sold the majority of the business for $45 million, they wanted to use their good fortune to make a significant and ongoing contribution to their community. They hired an accountant to help them set up an $8 million charitable foundation. CRA regulations require charitable foundations to distribute at least 3.5 percent of their capital annually. In the Johnstone’s case, this means they must donate at least $280,000 to charitable causes every year.
While the Johnstones had the best of intentions when they set up their charitable foundation, they soon found that the annual disbursement of such a significant amount of money became onerous. They were inundated by requests for support from a wide range of charitable groups, including requests by friends and business associates to attend charitable galas. Many of these causes and projects appealed to the Johnstones, but often they weren’t sure how to proceed or evaluate the proposals.
The Johnstones always met the CRA disbursement requirements, but it was in an ad hoc manner that didn’t reflect their values or the impact they hoped to make. In fact, they weren’t even sure what they considered their core philanthropy values to be.
At that time, a typical year for the Johnstones’ foundation included gifts of $85,000 to health-related organizations, $25,000 to environment protection organizations, $30,000 to the United Way, $10,000 to their local food bank, $50,000 to their alma mater, $50,000 to religious charities and $30,000 to their grandchildren’s schools. The Johnstones believed all of these causes were worthwhile, but they felt that their giving was haphazard.
The couple was also concerned that they weren’t doing an adequate job of passing on their commitment to community to their children and grandchildren. While they had some conversations about their business goals with their children, they did not have a family culture that encouraged similar discussion about their giving priorities. As much as the Johnstones wanted to create a legacy for causes they support, they also wanted to create a legacy of giving that would carry on through their family for generations to come.
Without family engagement or a directed giving focus, Joe and Marilyn were starting to feel like administering their foundation was more of a headache than an enjoyable and meaningful pursuit. They shared this disappointing conclusion with their trusted investment advisor, who suggested they talk to Janice Loomer Margolis about ways to streamline their philanthropy and use it to engage in a cross-generational dialogue with their children and grandchildren.
In their real estate business, the couple always hired the best experts they could find. Thanks to their investment advisor, they realized that they needed to use the same professional approach with their giving if they were going to maximize their philanthropic impact and provide a culture of giving to the next generation.
Janice met with Joe and with Marilyn and then with each of their children, asking them a set of questions and learning more about what they valued. She immediately noticed that the family members shared many common interests and values, but in some cases these values were expressed differently. For example, they all wanted to help people in need, but the parents, who were active in their church, were drawn to religion-based social causes while the younger generation was more interested in secular social and environmental justice.
Next, Janice facilitated a family meeting where she reviewed the findings of the individual sessions, identified the similarities and differences amongst family members and laid the groundwork for a process to develop a family philanthropy plan.
Through a number of subsequent meetings, she drew from her arsenal of tools and exercises to help the family members determine and communicate their core values, desired outcomes and talk honestly about how they felt about money. This type of meaningful conversation was new territory for the family. At first they were cautious, but with Janice’s sensitive approach to facilitation, the conversations became more comfortable and heartfelt. This allowed them to find common ground and come together to develop vision and mission statements as guideposts and touchstones for their family philanthropic plan.
From there, Janice helped the Johnstones prioritize their areas of interest and develop grant-making eligibility and criteria for their foundation. They set up different mini funds within the foundation—for social services, environmental justice and health. They established grant guidelines for each fund and created a grant application form that would gather the information they needed to make decisions that aligned with their vision and mission. They discussed the level of involvement that each member of the family wanted to have with the process and with the causes and left room for that commitment to change in the future if so desired.
The family also set up a special mini fund that the grandchildren could distribute under the guidance of their parents and grandparents.
Carrying out the plan going forward
The Johnstones greatly appreciated the unbiased and sensitive guidance Janice gave them and have asked her to continue to work with their foundation. She helps to evaluate proposals, identifying organizations and projects that align with their giving plan. She also monitors and assesses the giving process to ensure it continues to meet the Johnstones’ philanthropic objectives, vision and mission. The Johnstones also continue to consult with their lawyer, accountant and financial advisors about the tax advantages of certain giving options.
With their philanthropy plan and team in place, Marilyn, Joe and their children now report that they enjoy making grants and find the process and its outcomes very satisfying. They have also found that being given a safe and structured forum to open up to one another about the things that are most meaningful to them has improved their overall family dynamic and their relationships with one another.