Q&A with Robyn Schein

One year after launching the Family Philanthropy Resource Center, Robyn Schein sat down to share a few stories about how she’s seen the Center help donors come together with loved ones, make time for structured family discussions about philanthropy, and take their giving to the next level.


Robyn Schein

What is the Family Philanthropy Resource Center, and why did you start it?

Robyn: The Minneapolis Foundation has always worked with families—that’s always been embedded in who we are as an institution in the community—but more and more, we were hearing from donors that they wanted additional resources to help them with multigenerational giving. We started the Center to give our donors better access to all kinds of tools and services to help them give as a family, however they define family. They range from exercises that families can do at home, to facilitated family meetings, to events with speakers from around the country.

Why does it make sense to think about philanthropy in the context of family?

Robyn: I think that when a lot of people hear the phrase “family philanthropy,” they think of the financial part of this work—the part that involves bringing family members together to make decisions about money. But what’s usually driving the discussion even more is the desire of parents to pass on the value of being generous to the community. They really want to see that their children or grandchildren care about the world beyond themselves. That’s the universal conversation I tend to have with families.

What kind of support do you provide to individual families?

Robyn: The work I do with families is really customized, so it depends on that family’s interests and needs. For example, in one week’s time last summer, I had three meetings to help families with their charitable giving: The first was with a family that has three children who ranged in age from 4 to 11, and we talked about what generosity means to them. I had a second meeting with a family with three kids in high school. We talked about how to make decisions about grants and did a pretend allocation exercise, and their parents had a chance to talk with them about how they decide which organizations to support. Then I met with a family that included three generations, from a grandmother in her 80s to grandchildren in their 20s, and we did site visits to the nonprofits that received the first round of grants they had ever made together as a family. Those three meetings covered a pretty wide range of experiences, but I think they illustrate the Foundation’s ability to meet families where they are.

What’s the biggest challenge that families encounter when they give together?

Robyn: Often the biggest issue is time. We live in a world that’s incredibly busy, and that can be challenging for families that want to give together, especially when you think about multiple generations that are at really different stages of life. I’ve worked with some families where the matriarch or patriarch will feel like their kids don’t care about giving back, and the reality is that their kids are busy going to soccer games and running the PTA and being involved in raising their own children. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s just a matter of finding the time, and unfortunately, philanthropy is the kind of thing that tends to fall to the bottom of the list. So how do you create the opportunities and the time to do this work? The Foundation can help by creating structure for families to have meaningful, productive conversations about their philanthropy.

For example, I’m working with one family with three generations. Most of them live nearby, but not all the grandchildren are in town. Everybody gets together twice a year for a fun family gathering, once around the holidays in December and once around the Fourth of July or Memorial Day. We’ve dedicated a morning to philanthropy during each of those times—and they don’t just sit around talking about it. My role is to give them the structure so they’re actually having a more formal meeting where they’re able to make decisions, hear a speaker talk about the issues they’re interested in, or do a site visit to an organization they support.

What’s an example of a time you’ve seen a family get closer or work better together as a result of having an intentional discussion about their charitable giving?

Robyn: I work with one family with three children who are in their 40s. When I first started getting to know them, I met each of the children to get a sense of how family giving would be meaningful to them. As part of those conversations, I asked them about their earliest memory of being taught about the value of giving back to the community. Independently, all three kids told the same story about how, when they were in their teens, their parents took them to New York City. One day during that trip, their dad hailed a cab and had it take them to a neighborhood with horrible poverty and crime. They had this long story about how it took them a couple of tries to find a cab that would take them there, but basically what they remembered was their dad saying to them, “You need to know that there’s this whole other world out there, that there are people who live in great poverty. You are fortunate that you don’t see this on a daily basis, but I need you to know that this happens.” So the kids all told this story, and when the whole family met with me, I relayed this to the parents. The parents had forgotten that they had ever done that. The dad welled up—he hadn’t realized the true impact of that experience he gave his children more than 30 years ago. It still gives me chills.

Want to learn more about how The Minneapolis Foundation can enhance your family’s charitable giving? Call Robyn Schein, Director of the Family Philanthropy Resource Center, at 612-672-3824 or rschein@mplsfoundation.org.