by Deborah Brody Hamilton
Passages (A Publication of the National Center for Family Philanthropy)
Philanthropic families face challenges in managing their conflicts from a family dynamics perspective as well as from a philanthropic perspective. This issue paper explores the problem of conflict in family practicing philanthropy and describes how it typically surfaces. It offers advice and guidance from experts on how to manage these conflicts, shares stories of families who have experienced conflict, and describes how they have addressed this conflict.
Deborah Brody writes about the many methods that families might use to resolve conflicts. Among them, she says, is mediation. She writes, “David Gage, who specialized in family therapy early in his career as a clinical psychologist, believes that mediation is a more effective and efficient approach than family therapy for people who need to make decisions together in their family foundation, business, or estate. He explains it this way, ‘Family members who are working together have a job to do and it works much better to approach their conflicts by focusing on how they can get along better today than by focusing on what Johnny did to Suzy when they were kids. By making the present relationships more satisfying, it can actually alter the way people feel about what happened 20 years ago!’
“Creating healthier relationships with family is immensely helpful because these relationships are among the handful of most important relationships that people have in their entire lifetimes. Working through difficulties with family members is one of the most therapeutic experiences anyone can have because it leads to changes in relationships with other people.
“Mediation can be extremely helpful with a wide range of conflicts such as when a family member feels that they are being treated unfairly, or to assist with negotiations over who has what responsibilities and authority. Mediators often help foundation boards come to agreement on principles for making decisions and guidelines to follow if various crises should occur. A distinct advantage of this type of process is that mediators assist the participants to collaborate, see their problem as one that they share, and develop agreements that have everyone’s backing and support because they helped create the agreements.”
The full issue paper can be purchased at the NCFP website.