Connecting Generations through Pictures and Values

Federation Philanthropic Advisor Wendy Verba guides a three-generation family with a new Donor Advised Fund through a process of identifying the charitable values and goals that are most meaningful to them.

On a sparkling late afternoon in October, I sat on a patio in Larkspur, sipping a glass of wine with three generations of the Lehman* family who were meeting to launch their new Donor Advised Fund (DAF) at the Federation.

Helen, a recently retired attorney, had inherited the DAF assets from her parents after their passing, and she wanted her entire family – her husband, Barry, three adult children, Sam, Rachel and Lilah, and four grandchildren – to participate in a purposeful, impactful family giving process.

While the kids played tag on the lawn, I gave the family a brief introduction to their DAF: how to make grant recommendations online, basic guidelines and tips, an overview of the Federation’s many resources for DAF holders, and suggestions for how I – as their philanthropic advisor – could help them make the most of their fund.

Then came the big question: “What do we want to do with Grandma and Grandpa’s legacy that will make a difference for something that matters to all of us?” asked Helen.

Helen’s parents had built a successful family business from scratch. As American-born Jews who had watched the Holocaust unfold, they were deeply committed to Jewish survival and the State of Israel. Helen and Barry had raised their children with a strong ethic of social responsibility, but Barry wasn’t Jewish and the three kids had developed their own volunteer interests with local organizations serving low-income and minority youth, among other causes.

"Picture Your Legacy" cards by 21/64

“Let’s play a game,” I suggested, handing each of them a deck of “Picture Your Legacy” cards – 50 cards with colorful evocative images on them, from towering trees, to children playing, to two women in wedding dresses under a chuppah. “What I want you to do is pick the three images that best reflect the messages about giving and volunteering that you grew up with,” I instructed.

I watched while each family member selected cards: a soaring kite, a mother holding a baby… All the while, Helen searched through her deck rapidly with a frown on her face. “It’s not here!” she said. “What are you looking for?” I asked. 

“The one image from my childhood that comes to mind when I remember what drove my parents: the piles of dead bodies, eyeglasses, and suitcases from the liberation of the camps after the Holocaust. It’s not here,” she said sadly.

Her children nodded knowingly, and exchanged stories of how their grandparents made sure each child saw those pictures and understood both the utter devastation of the Holocaust, and the real possibility that it could happen again.

As each family member shared the picture cards that evoked their childhood values, what emerged were some common threads that knit together the whole family: an enduring commitment to social justice and tolerance; a desire to combat hatred, racism and anti-Semitism; and, support for a just and shared society locally and in Israel.

After our meeting, I shared my notes of what I heard and observed with the family, and suggested some organizations they might want to visit to gather information for their grantmaking. The family is now working on a mission statement, making exploratory grants and discussing how to involve Helen’s grandchildren in the rich giving tradition started by their great-grandparents.

*All names have been changed to ensure privacy.

Learn more about working with a Philanthropic Advisor at the Federation.

Categories: Philanthropy


February 11, 2015


Wendy Verba