It Stays in the Family: On Family Foundations and Strategy

Einat Dvir, VP Strategic Development & Partnerships


There are a plethora of philanthropic tools and vehicles one can use to impact society. Out of the myriad of options, family foundations are the vehicles that offer more than just social change and impact. They entail learning and partnership through legacy establishment, though they are not free of difficulty in operation and sustainability. These difficulties often include discussions on heritage and differences in worldviews and personal philosophies.

Yet when functioning constructively and openly, a family can overcome these challenges to achieve desired philanthropic effects. As professionals which are leading processes of strategic planning for family foundations, we witness the great opportunities that accompany these processes; enhancement of relationships within and between generations, teaching children about charity and generosity and finding common ground.

While there are over 40,000 family foundations in the United States, making grants totaling more than $21.3 billion a year (according to the Foundation Center in Washington DC), there is no clear legal definition of a family foundation. Most research institutions focused on philanthropy state that family foundations are entities in which funds are derived from members of a single family and that family members serve as trustees or directors of the foundation.


When we work with families to establish or redefine their family foundations, we aim at constructing a strategic and deep process which serves the family’s desires and needs. We have built a certain methodology which consists of family workshops, one-on-one conversations, weekend retreats, etc. Though each process is unique some notable aspects can be mentioned:

  1. Understanding motivations and values - Motivations and values are the prime influences on a person's behavior, and inform decision-making processes. They frequently derive from one’s past, in the form of upbringing and adolescent environment.

  2. Defining vision and mission - A mission is different from a vision in that the former is the cause and the latter is the effect; a mission is something to be accomplished whereas a vision is something to be pursued for that accomplishment.

  3. Identifying target audiences - After understanding why (motivations and values) and what (vision and mission) a family wishes want to achieve; the next step is defining who - to which segments of the population will be affected by the philanthropic efforts.

  4. Researching the market - Getting to know the environment in which the foundation will be operating; asking questions such as; who are the major actors in the field (NGOs and other donors)? What kind of solutions are offered and what are their rates of success? How can existing models be improved?

  5. Designing an annual and long-term plan - Once we identified the philanthropic strategy, we are setting goals and objectives which correlate to the mission and vision, and build a timeline for completing tasks.

  6. Measuring and Evaluating – Monitoring operations will enable future improvement through feedback mechanisms to determine whether a desirable level of impact is reached.


Establishing or redesigning family foundations is a sensitive and complex process. Such a process includes examining family dynamics, discussing personal opinions, and exposing differences in beliefs. However, philanthropy has a unique ability to generate insightful conversations about inter-generational shifts of resources and authority, through positive tools of social good and shared values. The importance of a strategic process in forming a family foundation is in the coherent and comprehensive approach which allows important discussions to take place with the needed mitigation and assistance.