The new normal in family philanthropy


Simona Biancu


The Rise of family philanthropy was the assumption behind the last Science and Society Seminar of ERNOP (European Research Network on Philanthropy) online series 2021. ‘Engaging with family businesses’ – this was the title of the seminar – was the focus of the presentation held by Peter Vogel, professor of Family Business and Entrepreneurship and holder of the Debiopharm Chair for Family Philanthropy at IMD Lausanne and author of the interesting book Family Philanthropy Navigator. Moderating the meeting and collecting the feedback from the participants, a number of challenging points emerged.

Some of them I consider crucial for the future development philanthropy as a global issue, both from a cultural point of view as well as according to the perspectives that will shape philanthropy in the forthcoming years.

Philanthropy is increasingly considered as an integral part of the family business approach. No longer, therefore, as something separate or an orientation to ‘do good’ but, more specifically, as a fully-fledged component of the whole family business strategy. The clear consequence is the shift from a one-way approach – from the philanthropist to the beneficiaries of the philanthropic action – to a multilateral approach (far more than a simple bi-directional), able to keep families united across generations.

Enterprising families, in this sense, can be seen as strategic agents of good capable to identify the issues they want to ‘work’ on in their philanthropic strategy, grafting innovative models of actions and practices, identifying multi-stakeholders as recipients and, at the same time, being an active part of such change.

A decidedly important paradigm shift that, however, is able to grasp the complexity of the era in which we live and generate authentic social innovation from the point of view of responding to this complexity with adequate thinking, responses, tools, practices and guidelines.

Fatally, then, the initial spark of philanthropy as the desire to do good requires an increasing investment in professionalization of the philanthropic approach by entrepreneurial families – philanthropy as a catalyst and generator, in other words, not only externally but also on family dynamics from the points of view of cohesion, reputation, the all-round impact generated.

The other crucial aspect, in this cultural shift, is the rise of cohesive being, one of the characteristics of the philanthropy of enterprising families mentioned in Vogel’s book. This trait can be considered among the most effective vehicles to gather both personal and inner values together with business activities and strategies – what, in Vogel’s words, is the spillover to develop further (philanthropic) activities for enterprising families.

This holistic culture, that seems shaping the way enterprising families conceive their philanthropy, has a profound impact, in my view, to advocacy as a vehicle to bring people around issues and values as well as encourage them to engaged with causes and issues. Furthermore, it is also the reason why more and more the focus of this type of philanthropy is issues rather than places (another of Vogel’s concepts) – even if the cultural background has a profound meaning in the way enterprising families shape their approach and action.

A comprehensive approach to complex problems, in other words, which looks at holistic ways of identifying causes and proposing solutions consistent with values and family history. A modality that, really, allows us to consider philanthropy as far more than just the will to do good. Indeed, it is more related to thoughts and beliefs behind actions and a powerful way that keeps together values, vision, skills, knowledge, expertise. Integration is the word that better describes, from my perspective, how family philanthropy faces this challenging ‘new normal’ and shape their future.

Simona Biancu is founder and CEO of ENGAGEDin

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