Growing Generosity


We all want to live life with passion and purpose and to know that we made a difference in this world.  Some people feel embarrassed because they would like to be remembered for their good deeds.  There is nothing egotistical about that desire because, in actuality, the more we make good deeds visible, the more opportunities we have to inspire others to be more generous.  Nurturing generosity is a good thing.

We can grow generosity within our own families.  Yet, how often in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, do we sit down with our children and grandchildren and share our vision for a better world and what we think is important?  Is your family involved in philanthropy and volunteer service?  Have you discussed the reasons for your philanthropic choices and priorities?  Do your children support the same causes or nonprofit organizations?  As adults, do you see your values reflected in the causes your children support?  Would you like to pass your legacy of generosity on to your children and grandchildren?

You can by creating and sharing a Generosity Legacy Letter.  In doing so, you just might help a loved one discover his or her own life purpose.  A Generosity Legacy Letter illuminates your philanthropic history and the influences and motivations behind your generosity.  Sharing such a letter can increase the chances that your values and vision for a better world become more deeply rooted in your family, encouraging a new generation to grow your unique family legacy of generosity.  Writing and sharing your Generosity Legacy Letter could also inspire other family members, friends and colleagues to write their Generosity Legacy Letter as well.  Collectively, these letters could help grow philanthropy and community engagement.

In fact, foundations and nonprofit organizations use Legacy Letters as a philanthropic building tool, enhancing multigenerational giving.  When the children and grandchildren of donors understand the stories behind their relatives’ gifts, important lessons are transferred to a new generation.  They have a better understanding of their loved one’s values and what is important to them.  Family members are then, more likely to support the same organization or cause.  In essence, Generosity Legacy Letters create a multiplier effect, opening doors to a whole new generation of donors.

Integrating Generosity Legacy Letters into fundraising programs allows fundraising professionals to connect more deeply and quickly with donors and prospects.  This effort can build trust resulting in more referrals to other potential donors and a stronger and longer lasting relationship.

For example, Individuals committing to a planned gift at one foundation offers the option of having a Generosity Legacy Letter written.  Through phone or in person interviews, I facilitate the creative and editorial process based on a series of questions that the donor can choose to focus on.  (See sample questions below.) After the letter is written, the donor and the development officer work together on ideas to share the letter with other colleagues, as well as post the letter on the foundations legacy society page of the foundation’s website.  This effort becomes a more meaningful thank-you gift, and an opportunity to grow more planned giving.

An example of a Generosity Legacy Letter created as a result of this effort can be found at  “Dr. Hug’s Generosity Legacy Letter” (scroll down the page.).

Currently, there are so many philanthropic tools, such as donor advised funds, giving circles and planned gifts that you don’t need to be a millionaire to become a philanthropist.  Generosity Legacy Letters can inspire and galvanize others to become more philanthropic by using these writing tools too.

As our modern society places more emphasis on consumption, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of generosity.  Passing on values about giving ensures a healthy charitable future.  Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

It is time to document your seeds and see the wonders grow.

Here are a dozen sample questions to get you started:

  1. Share an important story about giving that has influenced you. What is an important lesson you learned about giving from this story?  What or who taught it to you?  How does this lesson continue to influence you?
  2. What role models, relatives and/or ancestors inspired you to be more generous and compassionate?  Do you have any stories about these people that help illustrate why you admire them and why they are so special to you.
  3. Please tell me about your first large charitable gift or community service?  What did you learn from that experience?
  4. Does your own faith influence your giving?  If so, how?
  5. What impact has charitable giving, volunteering and community involvement had on your life?  On your family’s life?
  6. To which organizations or causes do you currently devote time, talent, and/or resources.?  Why are they important to you?  What motivated those gifts or community service?
  7. What would you hope your children and grandchildren or other loved ones could learn or understand about giving, volunteering and community engagement?
  8. What is your vision for a better world?  How has it changed over time?
  9. If you had a magic wand and you could fix anything in the world to make it better, what would you do and how?
  10. Why should this area of concern or passion be important to your family, colleagues and the community?
  11. How would you like your family, friends and/or colleagues to be involved in your causes during your lifetime and when you are gone?
  12. Are there any specific goals and actions you would like your loved ones to be engaged in now and in the future?
  1. I recently took a series of Webinars on retirement and one of the discussions was on generativity, which is something that we start to think about when getting older — what ideas and values we want to leave behind. This idea of a generosity legacy letter is a great way to get that down on paper. Awesome idea! Thank you, Leah.

  2. Knowing the roots of your family’s generosity has a side benefit of making history come alive. Take a look at Vivian’s new Legacy Letter Book. She is a black woman born in North Carolina and migrated to NYC and CT. She has powerful stories about the culture before civil rights in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

    Dr Gelman was born and grew up in Leningrad in the Soviet Union; emigrated to Israel when he was 38 in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War. In 1976, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio in the United States. Historically, he explainned and experienced two kinds of anti-Semitism, informal, on the street anti-Semitism and government sponsored anti-Semitism. After medical school, the government sent him to work with political prisoners in a small town surrounded by concentration camps, west of Siberia.