Good communication at work is not always easy – neither is communicating within the family. And if the two areas cannot be separated, as is the case in a donor family, then things become even more complicated. But communication needs one thing above all else: clarity. In this blog post, we share 6 tips on how founding families can eliminate uncertainties and lay the foundation for a clear family communication.
Misunderstandings arise in private just as often as at the office. Irrespective of whether a founding family leads a public life or not, they are confronted with internal difficulties. Like all families, a founding family grows and changes over the years. New generations follow. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw the line between private and public life in today’s time. In view of these diverse challenges faced by founder families, we present possible solutions.
One thing is certain: communication thrives on clarity and at the same time communication creates clarity. Open questions and uncertainty make stringent communication difficult – both within and outside the founding family. To counteract this, we recommend the following steps:
1. Create a common basis. Before discussing what can and cannot be said when and where, a common basis must first be created. The founding family must be clear about what concrete goals it is pursuing, what values it represents and in what form it is organized and involved in the foundation's work. This basis should be familiar to every family member and should be written down – for example within a family constitution or family statutes.
2. Clearly define all roles. No matter how a founding family is organized, for example through tribal representatives or a family council, the understanding of the roles of the existing positions and the tasks and responsibilities associated with them should be clearly defined. This way, all family members know who is responsible for what and whom they should contact in each situation. Conversely, the holders of the respective positions can better decide when they are required and can act faster and with more confidence.
3. Identify crucial issues and work out internal positions. There are difficult topics in every donor family. They are usually not difficult to identify – they are precisely the topics that are associated with many open questions and that unsettle or challenge family members. One example is money – what should and shouldn’t you tell your children about the family fortune? These topics can be identified in a joint session or workshop. Once the critical issues have been identified, internal family positions on each area can be formulated. For example, an FAQ sheet can be created and then made available to all family members or only to selected representatives, depending on the situation.
4. Define key messages for external communication. In order to create a basis of orientation for external communication, it is useful to formulate a core message. In 2-3 sentences, the donor family specifies which message it wishes to convey to the outside world. Based on this, family members can then formulate a "standard answer" to questions such as "Don't you belong to this family?" or "Where do you actually get the money from to go on vacation again?" This creates security for such conversations in everyday life.
5. Develop "guidelines" for challenging situations. For recurring challenging situations it can be worthwhile to work out "guidelines". For example, family members with a high profile may benefit from receiving a contact to reach out to for questions about public appearances, but also from a regulated procedure for dealing with inquiries by journalists. Another example is a partner regulation, which answers the question of when life partners of a family member are informed about the family history and fortune with a set of clearly defined criteria. It is advisable to revise such guidelines regularly to ensure that they are up-to-date and actually support family members rather than burden them.
6. Encourage regular exchange within the donor family. With communication it is like with all other things in life: Practice makes perfect. The best way to ensure good communication within a founding family is to communicate regularly – whether in real life at regular family meetings or through digital channels such as Zoom. Most problems and challenges are faced not only by one member of the founder's family, but by everyone. The exchange of experiences among each other – and, by the way, also with other donor families – is one of the most valuable resources of all!