Generous families: Using Governance to Guide Family Philanthropy

Dr. Sharilyn Hale offers customized expertise to help those who give, give well, engage their families, and channel their wealth and influence for good. As President of Watermark Philanthropic Counsel, Sharilyn is professional and discrete, working with leading philanthropists, generous families, and social purpose organizations across Canada and the Caribbean. Drawing from the best global practices and knowledge in philanthropic strategy, governance, organizational development, and research, her client engagements result in confidence and clarity.

Sharilyn is a faculty member of the Ultra High Net Worth Institute, a think tank established to advance the practice of those working in the family wealth space. She’s also an advisor with 21/64 to support multi-generational family philanthropy and holds the Master Financial Advisor – Philanthropy (MFA-P) designation demonstrating expertise in all aspects of strategic charitable gift planning. She’s a Trusted Family Advisor with the Institute for Preparing Heirs, and a member of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. A Chartered Director (C.Dir), Sharilyn is also a certified governance advisor and trainer with BoardSource, blending the best of corporate and family governance in her work with foundation and nonprofit boards. 

She is an invited speaker, author, and educator to professional communities around the world, known for her ability to combine on-the-ground practical experience with the best of philanthropic theory and research. She holds undergraduate degrees in Theology and Psychology and a graduate degree in Philanthropy. She earned a doctor of education degree, where her award-winning research on family philanthropy governance in Canada produced a model that helps families approach their giving in a meaningful way that works. She recently completed a study exploring affluent philanthropy in the Caribbean, where she grew up and continues to work.

 A committed volunteer, Sharilyn is a member of the Advisory Council for Canada’s first graduate degree program in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Carleton University; a program initiated by a group of sector leaders – including Sharilyn – who saw a need to strengthen Canada’s philanthropic eco-system.

She is Vice-Chair of the Toronto Public Library Foundation in support of the world’s busiest library system and has been a leadership volunteer for the Imagine Canada accreditation program for charities in Canada.  Previously, she served as a Provincial Appointee to the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which is Canada’s largest grant-making foundation.  Having begun her career as a professional fundraiser, Sharilyn is Past Chair of CFRE International, the globally recognized credential for effective and ethical fundraising practice.

 [00:00:00.170] - Cindy Radu

Welcome to the Tamarind Learning Podcast. I'm your host, Cindy Radu, Chief Learning Officer for Tamarind Learning Canada. Tamarind Learning is an online wealth education platform that develops practical foundational learning programs for beneficiaries and their advisors to help them prepare for the responsible stewardship of wealth. As part of this platform, I have the privilege to speak with experts on topics relevant to families of wealth and family offices. In this episode. I am absolutely delighted to welcome our guest, Dr. Sharilyn Hale, president of Watermark Philanthropic Council. Sharilyn works with leading philanthropists, generous families, and social purpose organizations across Canada and the Caribbean. For me, it's actually very humbling to share some of Sharilyn's professional credentials. She holds undergraduate degrees in both theology and psychology, as well as a graduate degree in Philanthropy and a Doctor of Education degree. In addition to her impressive degrees, Sharilyn holds the Master Financial Advisor Philanthropy designation, is a member of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. She is also a Chartered Director, and she is a Certified Governance Advisor and Trainer with Board Source, where she has the opportunity to blend corporate and family governance in her work with foundations and nonprofit boards.

[00:01:25.930] - Cindy Radu

Sharilyn, we met at a conference in 2022 where you were a keynote speaker. You are one of the most sincere, gracious, and inspiring speakers I've had the pleasure of listening to. You've been a lifelong philanthropist yourself, I think following your parents' footsteps as your family was, as I recall, very involved in philanthropy in the Caribbean. And I'd like you to just share a little bit about your early experiences in philanthropy and how that's influenced your work and your volunteer roles as well as your research.

[00:01:58.870] - Sharilyn Hale

Thank you very much, and thank you for having me. My experience is not unlike the experience of many who find themselves as givers in philanthropy and the charitable space. I speak with and have spoken with philanthropists, so many over the years, what drives you, what motivates you to get involved, to participate, to be generous? And most often it starts from their parents, grandparents, other special people in their lives that planted a seed in them even in the absence of wealth, right? That whatever they had, they gave generously, they shared, they volunteered, they were active. And that is part of my story as well. My parents, for 40 years, lived lives of service in the helping space and including my formative years in the Caribbean. And that's why that part of the world holds a special place in my heart. But their example of service and caring for others, participating, being attentive to what I can do, where I can help, and to live a life of service, that's certainly been instrumental to me. I started my career as a fundraiser, working for some fantastic organizations that continue to make an impact here in Canada and in other parts of the world, and then started my consulting business in philanthropy about ten years ago.

[00:03:45.290] - Sharilyn Hale

And in that capacity get to work with generous people all the time, which is a privilege and an honor and a great deal of fun.

[00:03:55.130] - Cindy Radu

Well, the families you work with are very privileged to have you. I'm confident in saying that they really learn a lot from you and their philanthropy flourishes as a result of having you as part of their advisor team. So I want to dig into this whole area that you've done a lot of research on with regard to family philanthropic governance. So there can't be anyone else who has a PhD in education based on research on family philanthropic governance. And I understand that you won an award for your research in this area and that you, as a result of your research, produced a model that helps families approach their giving in a meaningful way that works. And we'll dig into that a little bit. But first I think it would be helpful if we start with the word governance and what that means because it's used a lot, it's thrown out there, can be confusing and misunderstood. So how do you define that term and how is it relevant to the families who are looking at giving and being generous with their philanthropy?

[00:05:02.690] - Sharilyn Hale

Yeah, I think that is such a great place to start because sometimes the word can be a barrier and it's most simple form governance is how groups of people organize themselves to make decisions. So in the case of giving families, how do we do this, how do we figure this out so that it can be a great experience? I think that in my experience, a lack of clarity is one of the biggest barriers and it leads to confusion and can lead to conflict for families who may give through an incorporated entity, such as a private foundation. And then often it's a blend between the corporate governance, those are the things they have to do as an incorporated entity and a family governance. Those are the relational considerations that when you build in and have in place, they help ensure that the family is able to work together in a productive and enjoyable manner. In the case of donor advised funds, for example, which are incredibly popular for many families as a giving vehicle, there is also a need for governance because you need to be able to come together and make decisions together. So governance I think is incredibly important.

[00:06:32.830] - Sharilyn Hale

Again, just thinking is how we do this, how we come together to make decisions and really make this sing.

[00:06:41.070] - Cindy Radu

It's interesting you talk about conflict and I think about that outside of the philanthropic sector, but for some reason I think it's going to be all smiles and happy around philanthropy. So what kinds of things do you see that can cause conflict when families are starting to get into these types of conversations about giving?

[00:07:05.910] - Sharilyn Hale

Yeah, I have found in my work with families that philanthropy does tend to be a space where there's less conflict, perhaps, than in other areas of the family life. And I think that's one of the beautiful things about families coming together and wanting to give together. It can be a safe first space. It can be where it can be easier for people to get consensus and to find some common ground. And there is some research that suggests that when that happens in the philanthropic space, there's a spillover benefit to other parts of the family life. But common challenges that I've observed, there's kind of a continuum ranging from great uncertainty that leads to paralysis all the way to the other end of that continuum, which would be high conflict. Right? And so typically, when I see that, I observe there's a lack of a plan. They haven't figured out a plan. They haven't explored components to a plan that roles and responsibilities are not clear. So people don't really know, why am I here? What's my function? What do I have to do? What are the expectations? And I think broadly, it feels bad when you feel like you're not meeting someone's expectations, but if you don't know what they are to begin with right, that can be a bit frustrating.

[00:08:40.790] - Sharilyn Hale

And then either too little governance or too much governance relative to the family. So these are all areas, typically, where an advisor can be very helpful to a family to help them craft an approach that is right sized and customized to them. There is no one size fits all. There's no one right way of doing things. There are components that we know are important and useful, but then we have to craft that to really suit the family.

[00:09:18.690] - Cindy Radu

Love it. Thank you. Well, let's get a little bit more into this research that you've done because I think this will be very beneficial for our listeners and for myself. What key things did you learn in your research that you can share with us that might help or inspire families?

[00:09:37.940] - Sharilyn Hale

On I learned so many things. It was hard to write it up with only 200 pages, but I'll be brief today. So one of the things that I think can really help families, and I focus on this when I start working with a family is you are special, you're unique. Every family is distinct. And families come together in so many different ways. They have unique history. They have norms and behavior that shape how they relate to each other. Families vary in size, in their generational, ages and stages, as well as in their goals and objectives for giving. So in my research, I called these differentiators. These are factors that inform the choices that families can make about how they approach their giving overall. And again, it's really helpful for families to understand there's no one right way to approach their giving together. There's only ways that can best help them flourish and in the impact that they want to make in the community. So that's something that's helpful. There's also things that I find very inspiring that came out of my research. And the biggest thing there is that generous families tend to really care about each other.

[00:11:13.430] - Sharilyn Hale

They feel some connection, some shared sense of history, identity. Typically there are values. We each have our own values that drive our action. But in my work with families, often there are some profound shared values. What are the things that, as members of this family, we share and that we can stand on together going forward? And then certainly that they care about the difference that they can make in the lives of others. And that is such fruitful soil to grow. Your approach to giving and to philanthropy, with that caring also comes a sense of accountability. And that was also a big theme that came out of my research about how families organize themselves for their giving. A sense of accountability within themselves, being accountable to themselves for being whole, showing up with their full selves to the process, honoring their good intent, accountability to each other in the family, participating, being active, following through on commitments, and then accountability to the larger community. And that's a very big conversation in the philanthropy world these days, is how are philanthropists showing up as donors to the charitable partners and organizations in the community? So I think that sense of care and accountability really helped to contribute to a productive process.

[00:13:00.170] - Cindy Radu

Sounds like a really great process. Can you give us maybe an example of maybe something that you came up with in your research of a specific family example or something you commonly see in the work that you do?

[00:13:15.890] - Sharilyn Hale

A great example that I can share with you is a beautiful family that were really determined to use philanthropy as a way to strengthen their family and to express the relationships that they have with each other and in the crafting of their mission statement, their philanthropic mission statement. It's what I called in my research, a dual mission that reflected what they wanted the giving to accomplish for their family, but also what they wanted their giving to accomplish in the community. And it goes something like this we strive to support each other's efforts to grow both as a family and as individuals and to show kindness and respect to each other in our everyday lives. In this context, we support endeavors that XYZ. Right? And I just thought that was so profound. It was a family that was so clear about their sense of accountability to each other, right. Their sense of personal accountability, how I'm going to show up to this experience of being generous as a family. And I just thought it was so wonderful. And the parents were very intentional in how they crafted their approach to philanthropy, how they structured their governance.

[00:14:45.450] - Sharilyn Hale

Interestingly, it's a family that uses a donor advised fund for their giving so they didn't have to worry about the corporate governance aspects, but they had a very defined process within their family. And they're not a big family, but they crafted their governance in response to what they wanted the giving to make possible in the lives of their children and in the family. And I think that's such a great example.

[00:15:12.530] - Cindy Radu

I really thank you for sharing that example. How can families get started or get organized on their governance? What do they need to think about or put in place to start crafting their own mission and statements and accountabilities and that kind of fun stuff?

[00:15:30.730] - Sharilyn Hale

Yeah, it is fun. I'm glad you mentioned that. It is fun. And I often encourage families to think of it as a journey. Right. It's not a destination. Even on corporate boards, you never get the governance. It's never done. It's kind of a living, breathing, organic process that you have to attend to. You have to keep on it. You have to evolve and change. And families are always evolving and changing over time. And so there are four areas that I encourage families to look at. They can do this independently, they can get the support of an advisor, but they're all grounded in conversation and exploration. It's never the case where someone can just write up your governance plan and give it to you and say, here, do this. The best approaches to governance really emerge out of the family, from the family, reflect the family. So the first one, which is the most important because it drives everything else from structure to approach and strategy, is to clarify purposes. Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to give? Why do you want to give together in some way? What do you want the giving to make possible as individual family members, but for the family as well?

[00:16:56.900] - Sharilyn Hale

And then, of course, what do you want the giving to make possible in the community and mapping that out in a meaningful way? So, as in the case, the example that I just shared with you, if the development of younger family members is a key objective, then your approach to governance and how you organize needs to include the younger members of the family. You need to provide on ramps for them to participate. They need to have a meaningful role, some opportunities to be responsible and to lead, right? So your purposes really drive governance in a really fundamental way and bring clarity. The second area families should focus on is the relationships and the rules and responsibilities within within those relationships. It can begin by looking at who's eligible to participate and who wants to participate. Again, involvement in giving should be voluntary as opposed to mandated. In large, complex families, the eligibility may require more thoughtfulness to ensure that there are meaningful opportunities for all those who are interested. So if you have a foundation, for example, with a board, it may not be realistic for everyone to be a director. But there might be other ways that family members can participate.

[00:18:34.390] - Sharilyn Hale

Commonly, families will introduce some criteria for participation, some terms of service, so it's not a lifetime appointment where no one else ever gets a chance. The use of committees or other working groups that help to involve and keep the door open. Plan for the next groups of family members to be able to participate. Then of course, once you've identified that, you have to think, okay, so what are they going to do? What are the roles? What are the responsibilities and the expectations? What am I going to do? How often, how much time is that going to take? For families where there's busy professionals they may have young families, time can be a thing, right? And so being very clear about what's involved is incredibly important. Charitable structure used for giving is going to have some implications for roles and responsibilities. Again, if it's a foundation, there are legal and fiduciary responsibilities, things that have to be done. So those who are participating should know what those things are to protect the foundation, to protect the family. But even giving through a donor advised fund, there are still processes that should be clear to all those who are participating.

[00:20:03.320] - Sharilyn Hale

So getting clear about these matters goes a long way to ensure a smooth experience and a meaningful experience for some families. There's also some external relationships that can support their giving, whether that's a non family member on a foundation board. It could be other content experts in the areas where they want to give. So really understanding that network of relationships. My research called these the enablers, the things that help families bring their philanthropy to life. The third area is to then kind of draw together, map and document a plan. There is something very powerful in writing things down and it helps to augment poor memories so you can get around the table. Oh yeah, that's a great idea, we all agree. And by the next meeting you even forget what you talked about. Mapping it out on paper, some of the logistical aspects. So exploring questions like how often are we going to meet and in what ways? Where are we going to meet? How will we make decisions? How will we find giving opportunities? What's the process that we use when we have these giving opportunities and we have to sort through them and make some decisions.


[00:21:29.250] - Sharilyn Hale

Some families only meet once a year. Some families meet much more often. Some families use a majority votes decision making process. But consensus decision making sets a more robust standard and research suggests that that makes for a healthier outcome from the family. You want to be candid, do the founders of this thing, do they have any special discretion? Right? To be candid around that, around the table can prevent a lot of frustration. Some families allocate funds across family members to disperse. Other families keep those disbursements small and then the bulk of the funding, they make decisions jointly. Again, there's no one right way, but making sure that there's clarity and consensus on that clarity goes a long way, so that people feel that they're integral to the process, that they have a voice, and that they can participate in a meaningful way. The last area is to just get going, do it, implement, and then tweak. Tweak and evolve as you go. Because philanthropy is a journey. You learn as you go. And again, the family is always evolving and changing. I usually suggest you check in every two to three years, have a look at your governance, your structure, your process.

[00:22:55.990] - Sharilyn Hale

Certainly in larger contexts, you also need some policies in place, written, you know, all these decisions that you're making about how things are going to be, writing them, writing them down in a policy or a manual so that there's clarity both for those around the table and those other family members who may be coming on. And then, just to reiterate, it's a journey. And so much good comes from these conversations around governance, because family members, they learn more about each other, they understand each other better. And one of the other findings in my research was around social capital in families is a muscle. And philanthropy gives families the opportunity to exercise those muscles and enhances the degree of social capital they have with each other. That only brings good things for them in the context of their family and the other elements of their family life.

[00:24:05.230] - Cindy Radu

Sharilyn, that was amazing. I just want to wrap up with a couple of takeaways. The first one is that there's no one right way to approach governance for family philanthropy, but you need to have fun. So talk, explore, enjoy the process, and maybe you need a guide or adviser to help your family out, and those people are out there for sure to help you. But ultimately, every family's giving journey comes out of the family. I love this from the family and reflects the family. So the key is to get going and get started. So, Sharilyn, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and warmth on Tamarind Learning podcast. I'm confident that our listeners will find your comments helpful and inspirational as they embark on or continue on their philanthropic journey.

[00:24:59.610] - Sharilyn Hale

Thanks. Thanks so much for having me. Bye.


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