Family Foundations Case Study

Strengthening Family Foundations through the Power of Stories

Through more than three decades of working with family foundations, Don Brown, founder and CEO of FAMILY OFFICE, a wealth management firm, has developed a vision for helping his clients preserve what matters most.

The family foundations Don works with are often deeply connected to their communities, and they desire to make a significant impact on future generations. Through the philanthropic division of FAMILY OFFICE, Don encourages these families to capture meaningful stories about their grant-giving in order to use their foundations as “family universities.” He believes that preserving stories unifies family members around shared values and teaches the younger members of the family about the philanthropic process.

“Financial advantages enjoyed by families should be shared with others and should reflect the values that the family has lived with for generations,” Don said. “Each generation is the steward of the family legacy, and each generation should attempt to enhance the work of their forebears. The legacy and values of the family should be recorded and preserved to form the framework upon which future generations can be reliant. Without intentional efforts at recording and preserving these values, the family often withers.”

More than Grant Reporting

However, Don acknowledges that capturing a family’s values can be difficult. Most families record the impact of their charitable giving through written grant reports provided by the grantee, but Don notes that these reports are duly archived and rarely seen again. Because of this, the reports fall short of being inspirational and do nothing to unify family members around shared values.

Don opts instead for telling the stories of how each grant changes the lives of individuals or benefits the community at large. He believes that these stories will live on forever, having a greater impact on the way families work together. To accomplish this type of storytelling, which demands much more than a conventional (and often boring) grant report, Don looks to FamilyArc’s Professional Services teams.

“Storytelling is a powerful tool. It allows us to make an emotional connection with others; it inspires; it motivates,” Don said. “FamilyArc helps preserve memories and provides a continuum of family legacy. They capture life through the magic of our new digital world and create a family repository for memories. This adds a cohesive thread upon which future generations will be able to build their lives.”

Capturing the Impact

FamilyArc came alongside one of Don’s clients, a family foundation in Central Florida, to tell the stories of two of their grantees. Our curation team worked with the grantees to identify the best people to interview, and our biographers conducted background research and wrote custom questions for eight interviewees. The interviews were held via videoconference, and recorded and saved on the foundation’s private archive.

Our biographers then crafted their research and interview transcripts into engaging and easy-to-read stories of the real people and communities impacted by the foundation’s gifts. Each story was professionally edited for grammar and accuracy and underwent a review process by the grantees for final approval.

Our curators also worked with the grantees to obtain photos and videos that corresponded with the written stories, and our archivists pulled all of the pieces together to design the foundation’s archive.

“Visual elements such as video and photographs help us understand a broader story,” Don said. “It allows an individual to connect with a greater purpose and vision that has been years in the making. We hope it will not only preserve the past, but also guide future visions—whether that be family values or legacy-building through gifting of financial resources.”

Perpetuating the Values

The collaborative efforts of the grantees and FamilyArc provided the family foundation with five written stories (more than 6,000 words), two videos, and dozens of photos—all preserved on the foundation’s private archive.

The foundation can now enjoy photos of the state-of-the-art medical technologies their grants purchased and learn about the life-saving impact made in the community. They can view video testimonials from college students who had their eyes opened to poverty and even changed their career paths because of the influence of a community engagement program.

“To see the accomplishments generated by foundation dollars through photographs, video, and storytelling helps our governing board and community-at-large understand what it is to be a ‘living legacy,’” Don said.

Through the art of written and visual storytelling, FamilyArc strives to connect family members with their shared values, encourage continued generosity, and strengthen the legacy of family foundations. Personally, Don has found that understanding his clients’ values helps him develop stronger multigenerational relationships with the families he serves and also better equips the families for family governance responsibilities.

“I am a strong advocate for the work done by FamilyArc,” Don said. “FamilyArc is one of the few (if not the only) firms working with families solely to marshal, attractively present, and preserve an intangible family treasure: the family legacy.”

Capture your stories today.