For Example — Stories of Giving

Two Generations—One Foundation

A man and his nephew transform their relationship by working together on a Foundation

MICHAEL: When Uncle Frank said he wanted to meet and talk about something important, I got concerned. We weren’t particularly close; we’d go out to dinner once in a while, but mostly we would talk about sports and politics. I don’t think we’d ever had a serious, in-depth conversation.

When my uncle started talking about the fact that one of his proudest accomplishments had been helping service members go to college, I was blown away.

FRANK: I recently celebrated my 90th birthday, which got me thinking about my legacy. I established a Foundation several decades ago, and basically handled everything myself. The work I supported through the Foundation has been one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I don’t have any kids, and I guess the Foundation and what I’ve been doing all these years was how I wanted to be remembered, but if I wasn’t running things in the future, then who? Michael is my only living relative and my only heir. I had this idea that he would take on the leadership of the Foundation, but I had avoided bringing up the subject with him for years. As far as I knew, he didn’t even know the Foundation existed, let alone that there was $20 million in it. I wasn’t even sure he’d want to be involved. I had avoided the conversation for so long that now I didn’t know where, or how, to begin. I was reviewing my estate plan with my attorney and I shared all of this with him. He suggested that I get some professional advice and referred me to one of his colleagues who was a philanthropic advisor. He explained the situation to the advisor who said that if I wanted, she could help facilitate the conversation with Michael.

MICHAEL: When Frank asked me to meet him, I’ll admit I thought it was strange. I had no idea why we were doing it at someone’s office instead of over dinner. And then my uncle started talking about how he missed serving in World War II because he was in college, how he witnessed first-hand the impact the war had on his brothers who had served, and how, when he could finally afford it, he started doing something to help returning veterans. He told me about the Foundation and that its mission was to help military veterans go to college. He said that it was one of his proudest accomplishments in life. There was so much emotion in his voice, I was just blown away. It was a side of him I’d never seen before.

This process has enabled Michael and me to have conversations we’d never been able to have on our own.

FRANK: Thanks in large part to the groundwork I’d done with the philanthropic advisor, by the time I was in the room with Michael, I was clear about my intentions for this conversation. I was finally able to say outright that I would like Michael to continue my work. Before then I had been afraid to make this statement directly—it sounded like a command. But it turned out to be the important first step to a remarkably open and honest exchange.

MICHAEL: When my uncle told me he wanted me to manage the Foundation, I was moved—and a little daunted by the responsibility. But I also had to be honest with him: Veterans’ issues aren’t really my thing. There were other things that I cared more—in particular, food security. It’s shocking to me how many communities don’t have access to healthy, fresh food. I see it first-hand when I volunteer at the food bank every week.

FRANK:. Hearing that passion in his voice when he talked about the food bank made me feel more confident about putting him in charge of the Foundation. I told him that if he’d honor some of my charitable requests, I’d make his priorities part of the Foundation’s mission. I left our meeting feeling so much closer to Michael—proud of him, too. We worked out the beginning of a plan for moving forward that included working with the advisor to revise the foundation’s mission so Michael’s interests were included. We also planned to take a deeper look at organizations aligned with both of our interests.

I really do feel that my legacy will be protected, and that has given me so much peace of mind.

MICHAEL: When we had dinner a few weeks later, we never once talked sports instead we talked about the veterans organizations and the information the advisor had given us. It was funny: the more I heard about organizations that supported veterans and their programs, the more intrigued I got. Since then, our occasional dinners have become more frequent and a lot more enjoyable. The other night, he actually brought an article he’d read about a local shelter that started a food kitchen for the homeless. Not only that, but he said he’d asked the advisor to do some due diligence on the shelter so he and I could learn more about it.

FRANK: This process has enabled Michael and me to have conversations we’d never been able to have on our own. I feel confident about handing the reins of the Foundation to him. I really do feel that my legacy will be protected, and that has given me so much peace of mind.