Success, legacy, and succession in philanthropic family foundations

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Objectives: Despite the long-established existence of Philanthropic family foundations (PFFs), there is little existing research on these distinct organisational forms. PFFs are usually funded by profits amassed by family businesses (FBs) and many remain intrinsically linked with the commercial side of these businesses. Given the interconnectedness of the two, this study explores established family business issues within the not-for-profit context of PFFs to establish the extent to which current understanding of the former illuminates our knowledge of the latter.

Prior Work: There is limited extant literature on PFFs. Consequently, the paper draws upon the FB literature as the most closely related body of knowledge with its established emphasis on legacy and succession. The FB literature studied also considers the non-conventional and non-financial goals associated with family ownership and involvement in an organisation. Given the sector in which PFFs operate, the paper builds upon emerging research into entrepreneurial philanthropy (Shaw et al., 2011; Harvey et al., 2011; Maclean et al., 2013; Gordon et al., 2013) by also considering a variety of literature relating to the third sector and not-for-profit organisations.

Approach: Primary data was collected by undertaking multiple semi-structured interviews with key decision makers (family and non-family) across fifteen philanthropic family foundations. These interviews are supplemented with analysis of documents, publications, and archives relating to the PFFs in order to form multiple case studies from which emergent themes are identified and analysed.

Results: The findings highlight key differences between PFFs and their FBs, including (but not limited to) different interpretations of ‘success’, conceptualisations of legacy, and scant evidence of a formal planning for family succession in the future of the PFFs compared with their FB antecedents and counterparts.

Implications: Analyses and measures of success, succession and legacy have tended to focus on the continued internal locus of control of FBs. However, when these three themes are analysed in relation to PFFs a different understanding emerges as they are less concerned with control and more focused on ‘doing good’. As such, our findings offer another level of understanding which appears to be at odds with existing considerations on FBs and their longer-term development.

Value: The paper is an exploratory study which links research on family business with philanthropic family foundations. As such the findings discussed extend understanding of what key family business activities (philanthropy) which can follow firm success. Additionally, the paper provides initial, indicative findings about PFFs. Combined these findings contribute to a largely unexplored but emergent area of research – knowledge about philanthropy from the perspective of PFFs.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Nov 2014
EventISBE 2014 - The Future of Enterprise: The Innovation Revolution - Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Nov 20146 Nov 2014


ConferenceISBE 2014 - The Future of Enterprise: The Innovation Revolution
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • philanthropy
  • family business
  • entrepreneur
  • giving back
  • charitable giving

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