Foundations

 

Philanthropy may keep family members engaged in the family business (including those not otherwise working in it) and can promote family values. Even so, the unique circumstances of business families can raise some challenges for effective giving.

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Few would argue that vision and discipline are essential to make money in a family business. The same ingenuity is needed to donate money in a way that feels right to all family members.

As family businesses achieve significant wealth for their owners, philanthropy tends to become increasingly important to the family. Many factors spark the interest, including a desire to give back to the community that supported the business, passion for a particular cause and the hope of doing meaningful work together as a family.

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The cover of the March 1990 issue of Family Business Magazine—the publication's third issue—featured Henry Bloch, co-founder of the H&R Block tax-preparation company, and his son Tom, who had just been named the company's president. "He has a tremendous business sense," Tom Bloch said of his father back in 1990, "and having had the opportunity to learn from him has given me a great advantage."

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Last month, my husband and I blew into Chicago for the wedding of the son of one of my dear friends from college. While we were visiting, we strolled around the city taking in the natural beauty of the lake as well as the wonderful cultural institutions that dot the landscape. Chicago is an exciting, engaging city, which benefits from the many family businesses that form the backbone of the business community.

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Family foundations aren't just for Rockefellers and Vanderbilts anymore.

Just ask John M. Sobrato, general partner of the Sobrato Development Companies in Cupertino, Calif. Ever since Sobrato's grandmother Ann founded the family's commercial real estate business in Silicon Valley in the 1950s, the Sobratos had supported community causes. By 1996, the Sobratos' success in building new office space led the family to decide it was time for them to join philanthropy's big leagues and form their own foundation.

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In the public's mind, private foundations are billion-dollar money machines funded by America's super-rich families. In reality, most of the estimated 20,000 family-managed foundations have assets of less than $5 million.

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