Make Philanthropy a Family Tradition

We have all heard it many times: What a great family!

But what exactly does this mean? It often means that family members have been intentional about finding creative ways to live out their values and improve the lives of those they touch. Tracy Gary, author of Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy, defines families like this as philanthropists: “People who exert themselves for the well-being of others, who engage in practical and heartfelt benevolence, and who donate money and time to causes they believe in so that the world may become a better place.” Notice that there is nothing in that definition that says that one has to be wealthy to be a philanthropist — one simply needs to be rich in spirit.

Many of our alumnae tell us that volunteerism and financial contributions were family values imparted to them at home. Like Carol and Kim, featured elsewhere in this newsletter, they watched their parents become involved in community organizations and were often included in service efforts. Financial giving often started in church with as little as a nickel for the collection plate.

Allegheny trustee Gladys Mullenix Black ’54 purposefully started sharing her values with her family nearly 30 years ago when her grandchildren were young. She gathered them together and gave them each $100 to give to charity. Some knew immediately what they wanted to do while others identified causes as Gladys led them in conversation about what was important to them.

“I wanted them to catch the joy of giving,” said Gladys. Her family continued this tradition until the children became adults and philanthropists in their own right. They learned about giving, and Gladys learned about her grandchildren in a much deeper way.

As we move into the giving season, it is a perfect time to be more intentional in developing and encouraging a culture of giving in your family. One of the best ways to start the process is by sharing your own story. Do your parents, siblings, and/or children know what organizations you support and equally important, why? The dinner table provides a natural forum for discussion about what you are thankful for and what is important to you. You might be more deliberate and hold a family meeting to discuss philanthropic priorities and charitable gifts.

Inspired Philanthropy

Inspired Philanthropy is one of many excellent resources for helping your family to identify, align, and put your values into action. Please visit to find volunteer opportunities and visit to learn about ways that you and your family may support our students and faculty. We wish you a happy and meaningful holiday season!