Case Study 5: Timonthy

Case Study 5: Timonthy



Timothy built wealth from inheritance, investments, and a long career in finance, and had already established a family foundation.

Social Impact Goals

Close the widening education and economic gap in the U.S.

Philanthropic Approach

Relatively open, anonymous, considered efforts across all four plays — direct service, systems, policy, and innovation — but only funded nonprofits.

Talent for Giving

Daughter with relevant training, foundation executives, faculty and peers in donor education program, professional funding collaboratives, and intermediaries.

By the time Timothy had retired, he and his family had amassed significant wealth from a combination of inheritance, investments, and his long career in finance. He had already established a family foundation, but as an economist by training, Timothy knew he would need someone with different skills to help guide the family’s philanthropic activity. Like Maria found in Joe in Case Example 2, Timothy first found that talent in the form of a close family member, his oldest daughter Claire.

Like her father, Claire had studied economics as an undergraduate. The family joked that, of all the children, Claire was the one who understood their father best because “they spoke the same language!”

However, unlike her father, Claire had no interest in a career in finance. After a brief stint in a management consulting firm, Claire pursued a joint master’s program in education and urban planning. That training, combined with the natural rapport they shared, prompted Timothy to ask Claire to guide their family philanthropy.

At first, Claire was hesitant. It was one thing to be the family member who could banter best with her dad; it was another to feel like he was now her “boss.” After much discussion, three agreements made everyone more comfortable. First, her background in education and urban planning needed to be explicitly reflected in the family foundation’s priorities, resulting in the foundation’s initial focus on closing the widening wealth and education opportunity gaps. Second, she would have an annual budget for her own professional development so that she could do the job as a professional. Third, they would structure her role as a two-year assignment and reassess.

Timothy agreed, and Claire began a self-directed program in effective philanthropy. Through her father, she spoke with foundation executives and individual donors whose work she admired and who shared what they had learned over many years in philanthropy. She attended the Center for High Impact Philanthropy’s annual High Impact Philanthropy Academy (formerly, Funder Education Program). Long after her week on campus, her fellow participants and the program’s faculty became a source of talent when she had questions or sought connections to nonprofits.

Claire found that the directed, top-down approach some funders took did not resonate with her or her father. “Perhaps it’s my training [in education and urban planning], but I think too much control and central direction won’t work.” Despite their wealth, their family had never had a high profile in their community, and they all valued their privacy. As a result, Claire sought to keep their philanthropic activity as quiet and anonymous as possible to maintain the focus on the issues they cared about.

Through this talent network, Claire identified multiple national funding collaborations that served as hubs of knowledge and grantmaking activity. One focused on addressing the needs of low-income families and children in over a dozen cities across the country. The second focused on improving early childhood outcomes nationally, and the third was a competition platform that could be used to source the best ideas from around the country to address the growing wealth gap. Each had already built systems and infrastructure to measure indicators of progress.

In Claire’s first year, the foundation made significant philanthropic investments in all three. As   Claire explained, all three offered “leverage”: they brought the collective wisdom of hundreds of perspectives and existing infrastructure that could track the money and the outcomes. “There was no way I could have built that capacity in two years,” Claire said. In addition, by adding the family’s funding to these collaboratives, she could maintain the anonymity the family sought.