A Family Foundation Looks to the Future

The Buuck family teamed up with The Minneapolis Foundation to test drive a new issue and explore options for the future of their private family foundation.

Bob and Gail Buuck have been active in the community as far back as their children can remember. When their daughter, Katie, and her brothers were young, Gail volunteered everywhere from their classrooms to the streets of downtown Minneapolis, where she worked with homeless people. Bob not only served on various committees at the University of Minnesota; he also made time for Katie’s Girl Scout troop. “It was always taught to us, and shown: you give back,” Katie said.

That value carries over to their philanthropy. When Katie was a teenager, her parents started a family foundation that they have used to provide grants to help break the cycle of poverty and to support early childhood education for children and families at risk. From the start, Gail and Bob invited their kids to get involved. Over the years, they’ve held family meetings about the foundation and allocated funds for their children to donate to causes of their choice.

But as the kids grew up, the Buucks knew they needed to think about the future. That’s why they teamed up with The Minneapolis Foundation. Through our Family Philanthropy Resource Center, the Foundation helps families come together to strengthen their giving, offering services that range from facilitated discussions to site visits.

For the Buucks, one issue on their minds was succession planning: Their family foundation has never had a staff – it’s Bob and Gail who respond to the 100-plus grant requests that come in every year. Katie’s brothers have moved to California, and while they care about the foundation, they’re not in a position to run it. Katie is a trustee, but with responsibilities of her own and without her father’s business background, she’s had doubts about taking the reins – especially since her parents may leave the bulk of their estate to the foundation. As Gail put it, “What would happen if Bob and I died in a plane crash? All of a sudden, the foundation would jump to a level that would be impossible to manage without a staff.”

Katie and her parents also wanted to expand their foundation’s work beyond the issues they were familiar with. Finally, Katie and her husband were interested in creating their own giving traditions.

With help from their Philanthropic Advisor, Katie and her parents came up with a plan that worked for everyone. To start, Katie and her husband opened a Donor Advised Fund of their own. “It was a way that he and I could give together, learn about foundation work, and pass that knowledge on to our children independently,” she said.

Gail and Bob set up a second Donor Advised Fund that they and Katie have used to tackle an issue they’re passionate about but didn’t have time to research: teen homelessness. “In a sense, we’re kind of renting staff to help us analyze and make decisions on certain categories of giving that we don’t have the staff or background to take on,” Bob said. They also know that, in the future, one way to continue their charitable legacy is to leave some of their foundation’s assets to a community foundation, and they wanted to test drive The Minneapolis Foundation’s services to see whether that option might be a good fit.

To maximize their impact, the Buucks decided to award a few large, three-year grants. Their Philanthropic Advisor, Robyn Schein, researched their interests, recommended organizations, and helped them issue a request for proposals (RFP). Ultimately, they chose to support the Bridge for Youth, Youthlink, and Avenues for Homeless Youth.

“The Buucks are incredibly generous, but they’re also very kind, and the RFP they set up reflects the relationship they wanted to have with these organizations,” Robyn said. “Once they commit, they’re all in. They want to stay attuned to what the organizations are doing, but the multi-year funding isn’t at risk; they want to give them the time to do impactful work.”

At the same time, Katie said, “We don’t just write checks. We like to get involved, going on site visits and getting to know the leaders of an organization, and The Minneapolis Foundation allowed us to do that.”

Working with a Philanthropic Advisor has also given Katie an inside view of the grantmaking process at a community foundation – insight that she said has already influenced how she approaches her work with her family’s foundation. “Looking forward, whether I stay a trustee or become more involved, I have the knowledge and experience to do a good job carrying on the legacy of the family foundation.”