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What the Super Rich Can Teach Us About Giving Back Thumbnail

What the Super Rich Can Teach Us About Giving Back


 ■ Take a formal, organized approach to charitable giving instead of “checkbook philanthropy.”

 ■ Consider how a philanthropic advisor might be able to help you in your efforts.

 ■ Determine  your  motivations for wanting to give  back, and pursue strategies that line up with those reasons.

As investors’ net worth grows, it often fuels a rise in the desire to “do good” through charitable contributions. 

Indeed, we find through our experience working with the affluent and their advisors that one of the five key concerns that the affluent tend to share is how to conduct charitable giving wisely and how to magnify the impact of their philanthropy. 

Therefore, it may be helpful for you to examine some of the trends, patterns and preferences among the Super Rich—individuals with more than $500 million in net worth—when it comes to their charitable giving. Lessons from the Super Rich can often be incorporated into our own approach to various financial strategies and wealth planning.

Generational giving among the extremely wealthy

Many Super Rich families hold a strong belief in giving back—seeking to make a difference in the lives of others, society and the world. Many strive to have a discernable and significant impact. 

We make this conclusion by examining single-family offices—structures that many Super Rich families use to help them manage their financial lives. A significant majority of family offices (62.8 percent) are very or extremely involved in philanthropy. Interestingly, far more of the second-generation family offices have high levels of charitable involvement. (First-generation family offices generally are those controlled by the generation that initially created them—patriarchs and matriarchs; second-generation family offices are owned and controlled by the heirs of the original creators.)

This does not necessarily mean that roughly 40 percent of these Super Rich families are not extremely philanthropic. It could mean that their charitable activities are not run through their single-family offices. This tends to be more common with wealth creators than with wealth inheritors. Nevertheless, we see that the second generation is generally highly focused on philanthropy, and they tend to run the activities of their philanthropy in conjunction with (or through) their single-family offices.

Looking forward, nearly eight out of ten of the senior executives at these single-family offices who were surveyed said they expect the families to become even more involved in philanthropic pursuits than they are today. Here again, there’s a stronger trend among the second-generation family offices.

The  upshot:  It  may  be  that  younger  members  of  today’s  highly  affluent  families  are especially philanthropically inclined. Ask yourself how this dynamic plays out in your own family: Are the younger generations particularly interested in making a charitable impact?

Use of philanthropic advisors

We also see some clear differences in the extent to which the Super Rich seek help and guidance with their philanthropy. 

For example, a sizable percentage—29.1 percent—of the senior executives at single-family offices engaged philanthropic advisors at one time or another. Philanthropic advisors are professionals who assist people and families in thinking through which charitable causes and nonprofits to support. 

(Note: Philanthropic advisors are rarely the professionals who will help them address the tax implications of their giving. To deal with the tax considerations, wealth managers, accountants and attorneys are usually the go-to professionals.)

However, while more than two out of five (41.9 percent) senior executives of first-generation single-family  offices  have  engaged  philanthropic  advisors,  a  mere  8  percent  of  senior executives at second-generation single-family offices are using these professionals.

Why the significant generational difference? Although it’s not entirely clear, it’s possible that many of the wealth creators—the founders of single-family offices—are more focused on creating  the  family  fortune  than  on  philanthropy.  Therefore,  they  tend  to enlist philanthropic advisors for guidance. 

In contrast, the heirs—the second generation—may have had more opportunities to develop strong opinions about (and experience with) charitable giving. They may have even learned from the philanthropic advisors hired by their parents and decided to move forward on their own. 

The appeal of private foundations

In our experience, a lot of people—including the affluent—engage in checkbook philanthropy,  where  individuals  send  cash  or  checks  to  the  not-for-profits  they  care about. Often there is little to no planning surrounding this type of giving—donations are made sporadically and without regard to other financial issues and needs. In contrast, we see that the Super Rich tend to be more formal and systematic about their giving. 

Example:  Nearly  seven  out  of  ten  of  the  family  offices  surveyed  have  set  up  formal private foundations. This is proportionately more the case for the second generation than for the first generation.

We see that people create private foundations for many reasons, including:

• Caring. A private foundation is a very powerful way to convert caring into financial and related support for worthy causes. You need to care deeply about some charitable causes to justify forming a foundation. 

• Influence. Being  able  to  shape  society’s  agenda  by  influencing  the  decision-making process is gaining considerable attention from the Super Rich. Although private foundations can’t participate in lobbying activities or support political candidates, they may be able to help fund certain types of advocacy to influence broad issues and policies aimed at furthering their charitable goals without being specific to particular legislation or candidates.

• Legacy. Many people create private foundations to honor loved ones. They’re effective in binding a family together around something they consider meaningful. Many times, private foundations are used to help educate inheritors about how to become wise philanthropists. 

• Permanence. A private foundation can be established in perpetuity. Consequently, you can ensure that the charitable institutions and causes important to you will continue to be funded indefinitely. 

Note,  however,  that  generational  differences  come  into  play  here  as  well. Both first- and second-generation family offices say that “caring” is a motivator for having a private foundation. But “influence” is a much more significant driver for second-generation family offices—while “legacy” and “permanence” matter more to first-generation family offices. 


The takeaway from these findings is not that you need to set up a private foundation. The costs and ongoing management duties associated with private foundations make them unrealistic for most families. 

Instead, consider your own reasons for wanting to engage in philanthropy. What is important to you in terms of your giving? Do you share some or all of the same motivators as the Super Rich?

Additionally, you can take a page from the Super Rich playbook by being highly organized and systematic with your own giving. Instead of giving when the mood strikes, consider adopting a giving strategy that is carefully planned. Giving options such as donor-advised funds and certain types of trusts can potentially enable you to make charitable giving a component of an overall wealth plan. 

Finally, consider enlisting the help of a professional advisor who can provide insights and guidance into philanthropy in general and perhaps even assist in vetting specific charitable organizations. 

VFO Inner Circle Special Report By Russ Alan Prince and John J. Bowen Jr.© Copyright 2020 by AES Nation, LLC. All rights reserved.