Family Foundations Increasingly Focusing on Local Investments

Heirs to family fortunes increasingly are focusing their philanthropy on investments in the communities where their families built their wealth, the New York Times reports.

Although it may not always be the most cost-effective use of their dollars, a growing number of wealthy families are making the same type of philanthropic investments that large foundations are known for and are being as rigorous in measuring outcomes as many of those larger foundations, Frederic J. Marx, a partner at Hemenway & Barnes, told the Times. At the same time, said Marx, the approach serves to keep younger family members engaged in their families' philanthropy. For example, the Russell Family Foundation, which was created with wealth from the sale of the Frank Russell Company, an investment management firm, has chosen to focus on two areas — environmental sustainability and the waters of Puget Sound, and grassroots leadership in Pierce County, Washington, where the family business was located. "As with many families, place matters to [the family]," said Russell Family Foundation CEO Richard Woo. "It's where this business is from. The kinds of impact they can enact — [family members] can see and touch it."

Similarly, the sixth generation of the Houghton family, whose wealth is derived from the glass and ceramic material manufacturer Corning, has focused its efforts on supporting family, community, and schools in three struggling counties around its home base of Corning, New York. Since its founding in the 1990s, the family's Triangle Fund has increased its grantmaking from $10,000 to several hundred thousand dollars a year to a couple of dozen local groups. "It's giving to these rural organizations where the funding is limited," said James D. Houghton, the fund's chair. "It's not about replicability or getting Gates Foundation money. It's about helping these kids and providing a hot meal."

It's also about family unity. The Triangle Fund recently added a fellowship for members of the seventh generation who wish to work at the foundation in Corning. "In the 1990s, there were very few family members living in Corning, and now there's no one," said Houghton. "It's very dispersed, but there was a strong feeling of wanting to give back to the community."

"When Impact Investing Stays Local." New York Times 07/17/2015.