Why is a Family Foundation Like a Holiday Puppy? — Susan Schoenfeld

Talking Trends
4 min readNov 6, 2023


Photo by Rhaúl V. Alva on Unsplash

Susan R. Schoenfeld, CEO and Founder of Wealth Legacy Advisors LLC serves as a ‘thought partner’ to families of wealth through personal attention and human spirit. Susan is an award-winning Thought Leader; she provides guidance on legacy, next-generation, stewardship, governance, leadership succession, and philanthropy. She recently spoke on Family Governance at Opal Group’s Family Office Forum.

When parents set up a Family Foundation they often think, wouldn’t it be nice after we’re gone that our family gathers at holiday time and they talk about what really matters to them, they talk about their values, and they say, let’s give the money away to charities that can help heal the world.

I had a former colleague who used to say that a family foundation is like a holiday puppy. Why, you ask? I’ll let you think about it for a moment.

I used to run a donor advised fund, and if I had a dollar for every time a family would come to us and say, “We need to bust up our foundation, because one branch of the family wants to give to the arts, and another branch of the family wants to save the whales and another branch of the family wants to give to their alma mater.” Before you knew it, the family was at odds, and they ended up breaking up the foundation and splitting it into multiple donor advised funds.

Family foundations are not a bad thing; to the contrary, they’re a wonderful tool to have in your toolkit, and an efficient way to maintain the family’s control over its giving. But they are not the exclusive vehicle to benefit the causes that match your family’s values.

Impact investing is another way to articulate the family’s values. In particular, the trend in the younger generation is to blend their “doing good while doing well” activities. As long as they’re effecting the change they want, they may not necessarily care if they’re writing a check that’s characterized as charity, versus writing a check out of their other pocket to make an investment in a company that’s doing socially responsible work.

And now, the answer to the question: Why is a family foundation like a holiday puppy? Because it’s a great idea in concept, but the daily care and feeding may be more than you bargained for!

Susan Schoenfeld, a public speaker & thought partner to families of wealth and their advisors, is an award-winning thought leader. Susan’s switch from successful estate planning attorney and CPA to a trusted family advisor and thought-partner was inspired by families of wealth asking her searching questions beyond estate tax planning. As a conflict-free advisor who provides no investment, tax, or legal advice and sells no product, Susan shares her insights directly with wealthy families and with financial services experts. She is active as a keynote speaker and a leader of break-out sessions and workshops at conferences throughout the US.

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