Case Study 2: Maria & Her Family

Case Study 2: Maria & Her Family



Maria, the primary wealth earner from successful technology ventures and investments, started a family foundation  with her husband and two adult children. She works full-time, has a high profile professionally, and is on national nonprofit boards, but she has limited capacity to lead her family’s philanthropic efforts despite desire to do more. Although historically  their focus was on education institutions, they also discovered a  deep  commitment to environmental issues.

Social Impact Goals

Environmental stewardship — a sustainable planet.

Talent for Giving

Initially engaged a professional colleague, but later began relying on a son with relevant  graduate training.

Maria, the primary wealth earner, and her husband had a long history of philanthropic activity, focused primarily on giving to their alma maters and to organizations on whose boards they served. The opportunities to join these boards emerged more from their professional and social networks than from any personal interests or social impact focus.

At one point, their philanthropic pursuits and opportunities were sufficiently numerous that they hired an assistant to help manage their philanthropic affairs. That assistant, Cara, had worked closely with Maria in one of her ventures. Cara was motivated and professionally capable, but Maria and her husband could not provide her sufficient direction given the demands of their full-time jobs. As a result, they felt that despite the tremendous wealth they intended to use philanthropically, they were making little progress.

After he completed college and graduate school, they discovered that their son, Joe, had both the interest and relevant training to help the family do more philanthropically. Joe had pursued a master’s in public policy and attended our Center’s High Impact Philanthropy Academy (formerly Funder Education Program). Thanks to connections made during his training, he became active in other philanthropy programs and next generation networks.

Unlike Cara, Joe could speak with his parents and sister about philanthropy more frequently, without managing scheduling logistics. Their shared history also meant he could ask questions that Cara never could, and Joe’s training and involvement in various philanthropy forums gave him several ideas on ways he could help. One of the analyses he suggested became a turning point for everyone.

Joe was curious which nonprofits and cause areas the family had given to over the past 10 years. He presented the answer in a simple pie chart that showed the overwhelming majority of their philanthropy went to education institutions, such as nonprofits supporting K-12 entrepreneurship programs and the universities that family members had attended. Only a very small sliver went    to a cause area everyone agreed was a deeply-held family value: the need to be responsible stewards of the environment. This, despite the fact that two of the four board seats that his parents held were with environmental and land conservation organizations. In addition, although family members were now living across the United States, they had ties to California, where the effects of climate change were becoming more evident with the increased severity of wildfires.

The family will likely continue supporting education organizations as part of their broader philanthropic portfolio. However, the identification of this shared value of responsible stewardship of the environment provided a clear focus and motivation that was lacking from their earlier philanthropic activity.