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Why Succession Planning for Family Foundations is So Important
Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Cleveland, OH
Tuesday, January 31, 2023


Succession planning in family foundations is crucial in ensuring the longevity and continued success of the foundation. With the shifting of leadership roles, it is important to have a plan in place to transition smoothly and maintain the foundation’s vision, mission, and legacy. This not only protects the foundation’s assets but also sets a clear path for future generations to follow. CEOs and trustees of family foundations have a responsibility to the foundation and its beneficiaries to plan for succession.

What is succession planning for family foundations?

Succession planning for family foundations answers the questions: “What is the future of our family foundation?” and “Who will make decisions for using the funds and what criteria will be used to make those decisions after the donors or current leaders are no longer around?”

“No longer around” could mean they are deceased or incapacitated, have chosen to step back, or perhaps your current executive director plans to retire.

Succession planning ensures the vision and goals of the founding family members are clearly defined, otherwise it might lead to confusion and misunderstandings among extended family members and future trustees, or even be left up to interpretation by the courts.

It is crucial to proactively address the future of the family foundation and ensure that the intentions of the founders are preserved and realized.

15 ways succession planning can help your family foundation

The benefits of succession planning for family foundations are almost endless.

A succession plan can:

  1. Preserve the legacy and impact of the foundation and its donors.
  2. Clarify donor intent for the foundation.
  3. Strengthen governance by answering questions such as: How will decisions be made now and in the future? What changes should we make to our board composition and terms to support the foundation?
  4. Clarify trustee and executive director roles and responsibilities, and what involvement they anticipate when the donors are no longer involved in the foundation.
  5. Build the leadership capacity of the foundation, such as through executive advisement and coaching to help the executive director effectively lead the foundation through change.
  6. Ensure the foundation’s assets are protected and managed effectively, even as leadership changes or if assets dramatically grow through a planned gift. This helps to minimize the risk of mismanagement and ensure the foundation’s resources are used for their intended purpose.
  7. Help you prepare for the planned or unplanned departure of your executive director so that you can minimize disruption to the family and foundation and engage the right person to lead your foundation into its next phase.
  8. Create guidance on whether the foundation should exist in perpetuity or spend-down, the spend-down time horizon and goals, and what triggers the spend-down.
  9. Help prepare for the unexpected by conducting scenario planning and developing plans to mitigate or address them.
  10. Create an opportunity to strengthen operations, such as streamlining grantmaking, strengthening operations, or assessing impact.
  11. Provide stability during times of change.
  12. Avoid disputes among family members, minimizing the risk of conflict in the family and disruption to the foundation’s operations.
  13. Minimize the risk of legal and regulatory issues.
  14. Transfer knowledge across generations.
  15. Be summarized into a clear, written document so that decisions and plans are transparent to other family members, future board and staff, and other stakeholders.

When should a family foundation create a succession plan?

Just like with voting, it should be done early and often! In all seriousness, the best time to create a succession plan is today. Long before you have an urgent need. It’s far better to have your family foundation succession plan in place now when everyone is healthy and no one plans to leave than when the family is in crisis due to an unexpected death or departure.

A succession plan should also be reviewed and refreshed regularly. This could be done annually or every few years. Things change. Your goals for the foundation may evolve as you learn more about philanthropy and your family’s interest in the foundation.

The economy, your assets, community needs, and regulatory requirements will all change. Your kids might have kids, and suddenly their interests and availability will shift. And now you will have future generations to consider. These changes might spark your desire for a different future for your family foundation. 

Wondering where to start? 

If you think you need a succession plan for your family foundation, let’s talk. I’m always happy to schedule a free call to discuss your needs. Together we can determine if a succession plan would help you and what immediate steps you can take. Don’t wait until a crisis hits.

Creating a family foundation succession plan is easier than you think. Getting the pieces in place now will give you peace of mind. And future generations will thank you.

About Kris Putnam-Walkerly

For over 20 years, top global philanthropies, UHNW donors, celebrity activists, foundations, wealth advisors, and Fortune 500 companies have sought Kris Putnam-Walkerly’s philanthropic advisory services to dramatically increase the clarity, speed, impact and joy of their giving. As a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert, speaker and award-winning author, she’s helped hundreds of foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts. Kris also contributes expert philanthropic commentary to the WSJ, Forbes, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Alliance Magazine, Variety, Thrive Global, Worth Magazine, NPR's Morning Report, and other media. Awards include being named "Philanthropy Advisor of the Year" in 2020 and 2021, "Most Dedicated Philanthropic Advisor" in 2021, one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers" three years in a row, and most recently was a finalist for the 2022 Family Wealth Report Awards for “Philanthropy Advice.” Kris is the author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change and What They Can Do To Transform Giving (Wiley, 2020) and Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Kris Putnam-Walkerly
Title: Global Philanthropy Expert
Group: Putnam Consulting Group, Inc.
Dateline: Westlake, OH United States
Main Phone: 800-598-2102
Cell Phone: 510-388-5231
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