Learn, Earn, Return – The Philosophy of Philanthropy!

What do you think of when you think of Philanthropy? Do you picture an unapproachable patriarch with huge fortunes who donates to his pet causes? I have to be honest, that’s kind of what I pictured – until I met and interviewed two amazing women for a panel at the Family Office Magazine and KBC Conferences

I know the brain science around giving. It feels good to do good and all that. I know that we get a rush of dopamine when we help someone. But did you know that giving can actually help a family business survive? 

The KBC Conferences panel was titled “The Journey From Success To Significance: Spotlight On Philanthropy.” Many companies are successful but few companies can pride themselves on being significant. The three family dynasties represented on this panel achieved significance by making philanthropy a part of their business plans. 

Dame Sheila B. Driscoll is the great-granddaughter of Jeremiah Driscoll, Patriarch of Driscoll’s, who began producing fresh berries in California’s Pájaro Valley in 1907. She is the CEO of Driscoll Ventures (DV), an interdisciplinary management consultancy, specializing in media & entertainment, product imagineering, and philanthropy with a focus on legacy endeavors.

Mitzi Perdue comes from two long-lasting families.  Her family of origin began in 1840 as a family business, and her father was co-founder and president of the Sheraton Hotel Chain.  Her family by marriage, the Perdue poultry family, is celebrating 101 years as a family business.  Mitzi herself is the founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now!

How Does Philanthropy Help Family Businesses Survive?

The three family dynasties Mitzi and Sheila represent have had philanthropy as part of their business plans for over one hundred years. We talked about what philanthropy means to them and how important it can be for keeping a family business healthy and relevant. 

Mitzi shared that there is research, by Dennis Jaffe that reveals a direct correlation between philanthropy and the longevity of family businesses. Jaffe found that the families that last 100 years or more have discovered the value of philanthropy. One reason this may be true is that the focus on philanthropy is the one thing that unites generations of families who may no longer be working in the family business. It gives them a sense of purpose. 

In my work as a communication coach and consultant, I know that research has also shown that having a sense of purpose is what lessens burnout and keeps employees engaged and loyal to their employers. Apparently the same holds true for family businesses.

Philanthropy, Impact Investing What’s the Difference?

We hear a lot of talk these days about Impact Investing (ESG & ERG). I wondered what the difference was between Impact Investing and philanthropy as some people use these terms interchangeably.  Dame Sheila had a clear answer. Philanthropy is “doing good and feeling good doing it.” Impact Investing is “delivering a financial return by doing good.” The investor’s intention should include some element of both social impact and financial return.  Whereas the philanthropist should be able to answer these five questions.  1.) Why are you giving?; 2.) What do you want to achieve?; 3.) How do you think change will happen?; 4.) How will you assess progress? and 5.) Who will join you?

When, How and Why Do You Start on Your Philanthropic Journey?

Our panelists shared that philanthropy typically starts in one of two ways: either with an event that induces a family to give or when there has been a large influx of resources which causes the family to reflect on what they can do with these resources that will both showcase and highlight the company’s values as well as better the community. 

One of my favorite parts of the discussion was hearing about the event that sparked the Driscoll family’s involvement in philanthropy. It all started with Joe Louis. Yes, that Joe Louis! Sheila shared with us that before the Joe Louis Max Schmeling heavyweight bout, Joe Lewis trained at her grandfather’s berry farm. When her grandfather learned that Joe was going to donate ALL of his winnings to the Navy Auxiliary to fight Hitler and sink the U-boats, Driscoll thought that if Joe Lewis could be that generous, then so could he. That’s when he started the Driscoll Foundation, the Philanthropy arm of the Driscoll Family business.

Mitzi’s birth family, of the Sheraton Hotel chain, has been a family business since 1840. She remembers as a very young girl watching her father, president, and co-founder of the Sheraton Hotels, go through proposals from different charities. When she asked what he was doing and why he told her that the greatest pleasure his money has ever given him was in giving it away.

The late Frank Perdue, Mitzi’s husband, used to say that if you want to be happy, think what you can do for someone else. If you want to be genuinely miserable, think of what’s owed to you.

Is Philanthropy Sustainable in the “Me” Generation?

I found it incredibly inspiring to hear how passionate and steeped these two women and their families are in the philosophy of giving.  But we hear so much about the “me” generation and how self-centered we have become as a society. I wondered how families can ensure that their heirs who may no longer work IN the family business develop the philanthropy philosophy. Both women believe that you have to start young. 

The Purdue family has set up what sounds like a genius tradition. They have formed a Giving Club. It’s kind of like gamifying philanthropy. The younger generation – children between 10 and 16 years old – get a certain amount of money and they are expected to research and study different causes they might want to support. Then one cousin might lobby other cousins to put their money together to support one “greater” cause. It’s a terrific way to teach them early about responsibility and awareness and get them thinking of others and how they can impact lives through giving.

Sheila believes families need to start at around age 4 or 5. She ascribes to the philosophy Learn, Earn, Return. Sheila’s first experience in giving was at a young age bringing canned goods to food pantries and school drives, donating winter coats and gently used clothing to shelters and churches. Her family made sure a portion of the young people’s allowances, babysitting money and household chores were allocated for donations. They always volunteered together as a family and discussed giving choices during the holiday season. As teenagers, they were encouraged to search for causes they could become involved in personally. 

The Purdue family still uses Thanksgiving as a time to come together and decide on one cause that they will contribute to and instead of giving gifts, they engage in a packing party on Thanksgiving to send off these gifts to the causes they identify. 

Sheila emphasized that clarity is key. Once the patriarch or matriarch of a family can clearly define and convey what in life motivates his or her giving, then that motivation can be communicated to family members. As a patriarch or matriarch, you want to inform, inspire and involve. 

How incredible would this world be if we all adopted and instilled in our children Sheila’s philosophy of Learn, Earn, Return?

How Do You Know What to Support?

Looking at the news these days, there is no shortage of worthy causes. Both Mitzi and Sheila believe families should align the causes they choose with their own family values. They should choose something that motivates them, that they truly support and believe in. This is the best way to ensure that the company stays invested and motivated to continue. For example, being in the poultry business, it makes sense for the Purdue’s to support fighting food insecurities and saving the environment. And for the Driscoll’s, who own a berry empire, agriculture business practices and tenets. as well as their personal values, inform their philanthropy. 

It is also important to consider how sustainable the charity and organization are. Is it set up for success? Will the contribution really help to solve a specific problem or just put a bandaid on it? How do they measure success? Do they have metrics? Shelia vets all of her causes by checking to see if they are listed with the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. This alliance assures that the organizations on their lists adhere to over 40 different standards.

Isn’t Philanthropy Just for the Uber Wealthy?

If you think you need to be a millionaire or be from a long-standing family business to be a philanthropist, Think again. Dame Sheila shared with us the three T’s of philanthropy – Time, Treasure, and Talent. Even if you don’t have a huge treasure to donate, we all have time and talent which can go a long way in helping impact those in need.

And every monetary donation does not have to be huge either. Some families give large amounts to a couple of causes that they care most about and some families choose to give smaller amounts to many different causes. The important part is to get started.

It’s so easy to think of philanthropy as something that other people do once they’ve made their fortune. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to sit down with Mitzi and Sheila and discover the many different aspects and benefits of philanthropy. It’s also incredibly inspiring to learn that there are amazing people in this world who still believe in doing good because it’s the good thing to do.

Key take-aways:

  • Align giving with your family’s personal values.
  • Start early. You don’t have to give huge dollar amounts. You can start small and/or give multiple small donations to causes you care about.
  • Get younger generations involved early by engaging in holiday giving
  • Adopt the philosophy of Learn, Earn, Return.

Author: Robyn Hatcher

Robyn Hatcher, is a dynamic keynote speaker, communication expert, author, thought leader and award-winning actor. Robyn transforms the careers of business leaders and the culture of organizations, through customized corporate programs, private coaching, and interactive, content rich presentations. Using her 15 plus years in the entertainment industry and her experience as a certified Neuro Linguistic Programming practitioner, she inspires. She invigorates. She leaves you with tangible skills you can apply the very next day. In 2018, Robyn appeared on Good Morning America speaking about the “#metoo” movement and was named one of the '21 Leaders for the 21st Century' 2019 by Women's eNews!

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