Generosity stories can make a legacy

Published on Saturday, 6 December 2014 19:45 - Written by Dawn Franks, Your Philanthropy


Last year I spent time with a family mulling over a family gift in honor of grandmother. Grandmother had been involved with several organizations, so the family sorted through various ideas about what would mean the most to her.

Today I spent time with two teenagers deciding what recommendation to make to their parents about a family gift. We explored areas they were concerned about and then began to talk about specific organizations in the community serving those needs. The youngest remembered her mother had been involved with an organization that served children and seemed important to her. Both teenagers liked the idea of giving to something they cared about and was important to their mother.

Both these stories are about the different generations — one spanning three, the other only two. I have to ask myself how children know what’s important to their parents and grandparents. It’s part of an even more important question — how to make generosity a family legacy?

I had one glimpse into the answer in a conversation with Sharon. She learned about giving from her grandmother Golda. When the young and inquisitive Sharon asked her why there were wheelchairs hanging from the basement rafters she learned that her grandmother believed it was a community’s responsibility to take care of those in need. Wheelchairs, walkers and rolls of dressing were ready for the time when they would be needed.

Golda also was known for providing for the hungry. A knock at the back door was Golda’s signal. She would leave the dinner table to prepare an extra plate having already cooked for a family of five and take it to the back porch. The person who knocked would have stepped away from the door to wait. After the needed meal was eaten there would be another knock at the door and Golda would return to collect an empty plate. Sharon grew up hearing stories and was blessed with the opportunity to ask her grandmother about those wheelchairs. Sharon learned that giving was important, even when it was done one at a time.

Today the lessons Sharon learned from Golda have impacted her giving decisions. As an entrepreneur and business owner Sharon Howell has been a donor to countless organizations over the years. She currently serves as chair of The Women’s Fund. Giving values passed to her through stories.

Today Sharon has her own giving story, but it started with Golda. Children learn what they see and hear. Share stories with your children and grandchildren about the most meaningful gift you ever made. Tell stories about your parents and grandparents and how they modeled giving. Describe someone outside the family who taught you lessons about giving.

The size of the gift isn’t important. The kind of gift isn’t important — financial, time, expertise, needed or valued items — all tell stories of generosity.

The family in search of a gift for grandmother all agreed on one particular organization, knowing it would mean the most to her. How’d they know? She talked about it.

This is a great time of year to interview parents and grandparents about their own giving. Here are a few questions to get the conversation started. What is your first memory of charitable giving to someone else? Who was your role model for being financially generous? Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity? Why do you think being generous is important? Have you been able to help someone else in an important way? Is your life different as a result of your giving efforts? (Interview questions by Mark V. Ewert, author of The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving)

Your answers will become stories passed from one generation to the next, from one friend to the next. Your stories might be the greatest legacy you leave. Sue Monk, author of The Secret Life of Bees says, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Don’t let your generosity stories die; give them life by passing them to the next generation.


Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy, offers high touch advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact. She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at . Comments and questions are welcome. Send to