April 10, 2010; Wall Street Journal | If practice makes perfect, Caroline Cummings Rafferty should be ready for the day she takes over the $235 million Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, started by her grandfather from the money he made from the Speedway gasoline station chain. To help her prepare for the eventual job of deciding how to responsibly make $12 million in grants each year from her family’s foundation, 29-year-old Rafferty is overseeing a $1 million fund that gives away thousands of dollars annually.
According to the Wall Street Journal, setting up mini foundations for their children, like the one Rafferty is running, is one way the next generation is being groomed to someday head their family’s philanthropies. Other ways children are learning the ropes of their family’s philanthropy include forming special boards of directors or foundations committees that give them responsibility for specific duties, such as developing a Web site.
Ironically, overseeing giving away smaller amounts helps these philanthropists-in-training deal with another reality: the foundations they’ll one day manage are likely to be smaller than they once were. As the Journal notes, foundations in the United States lost nearly $150 billion in assets in 2008, almost the equivalent of total grants awarded over the four years preceding the financial meltdown.
Still, working with less individually can lead to creative thinking and innovative collective giving programs. The Journal describes a group effort comprising a number of 20- to 30-year-old donors, called the One Percent Foundation. Like 30-year-old Daniel Kaufman who started the online giving circle in 2007, other supporters—some 200 so far –give 1% of their annual income to the foundation. “If every American in their 20s and 30s did this, we’d have $16 billion to give away a year, which is bigger than Bill Gates,” Kaufman says. Perhaps, instead of trying to top his foundation’s grantmaking, the group should invite Gates—himself a relatively new fulltime giver—to join them.—Bruce Trachtenberg