The greatest gift

By Anne Brayley | April 1, 2011 | Last updated on April 1, 2011
3 min read

Anne Brayley, vice president, Professional Advisory Services at the Toronto Community Foundation, speaks with Gwen Harvey, founder and president of Bridgewater Family Wealth Services, about family philanthropy.

Brayley: How do you determine philanthropy’s role in client work?

Harvey: We take an integrated approach to the wealth-planning process and philanthropy is one of the key pillars in that conversation. Clients usually guide the discussion by indicating their openness to charitable giving. Often, their readiness to engage is tied to their stage in life. The desire increases once there is financial security within the family.

Brayley: How do you frame the topic of philanthropy?

Harvey: I ask what they want to fix in this world. I then work with the family to identify core values, principles and issue areas that compel them. We also talk about the difference between charitable giving and strategic philanthropy, so a family can be more deliberate about how their giving can impact areas important to them.

Both are valid. Charitable giving is like providing treatment for a wound. Strategic philanthropy focuses on finding the root cause and ways to prevent it from recurring.

Brayley: What else is part of a family philanthropy plan?

Harvey: Consider what structure would be most appropriate to meet their goals. Sometimes this means continuing with personal annual giving, but with a more strategic focus. Other times, there is a strong desire to create a legacy, and a private foundation or donor-advised fund at a public foundation may be the right answer. This may also be triggered by the sale of a business or large stock position, which presents an opportune time to set up a long-term vehicle for family giving.

Brayley: How do you engage the whole family in the discussion?

Harvey: Involvement with the children will vary according to their stage in life. Younger children may get excited about going on site visits to different charities as a way to learn about the impact of giving. There may be a gap in interest for young adults who are busy with their education, first jobs and building their own lives. Sometimes there can be a disconnect in their minds about giving money away when they are just beginning to work and are finding [life] hard to afford. But at all stages, parents who involve family in their philanthropy are sharing their values and teaching their children to think about the world around them. It’s a powerful message and this learning can be a gift in itself.

Brayley: How knowledgeable are clients about which organizations to support?

Harvey: They will generally be aware of the larger organizations. In many cases, once we’ve identified an area of interest, we will look to an organization like a community foundation as a resource for better understanding the charities who are doing great work. Often that’s where we find the knowledge of grassroots initiatives and forward-thinking approaches.

Brayley: You’ve been involved with your parents’ family foundation in Toronto for the past 20 years. How has that experience contributed to your client discussions?

Harvey: Over the past two decades my parents and a thoughtful and effective family foundation board have mentored me. I’ve learned a lot about best practices, so I can contribute real-life advice to clients considering this path. I attended The Philanthropy Workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York and over a one-year period, I learned about the principles and impact of strategic philanthropy. Whether a client wants to set up a foundation or be involved in annual giving, I have stories and help to offer so the experience will be rewarding.

Brayley: What advice do you have for other advisors that might help the philanthropic conversation?

Harvey: Ask them what moves them to tears. It’s surprising how the question may stop them in their tracks, but when they start to answer, it’s a wonderful conversation. If they’re open to this path, go deeper in the conversation and narrow the focus. They will value your interest and you will witness humanity at its best.

Anne Brayley