Starfish Impact’s Founder, Marta Gazzera Ferro, was recently interviewed by Kristen Oliveri for Institutional Investor’s Family Office Network, a private online community for the world’s wealthiest single family offices. Though their content is limited to members, we are happy to cross post the feature for our readers entitled, ‘Finding Philanthropy: Making the Most of Your Impact’.
New trends and philanthropic travel emerge in a traditional space
When it comes to the term “philanthropy”, most notably as it relates to the family office space, the definition can be somewhat ambiguous. It has taken many forms such as traditional check writing, foundation creation and most recently, impact investing. While that could prove confusing to some, the broadening of the space is only a benefit to families who want to make their dollars count, says Marta Gazzera Ferro, president of Starfish Impact.
California-based Ferro runs a philanthropic advisory firm which also works in tandem with Angeles Wealth Management, among other firms, to provide operational and strategic advisory services to their family office clients, and she has seen this shift into philanthropic expansion to be a positive.
“Philanthropy is now being looked at more broadly, particularly from family offices, which oftentimes do not have the same regulation or reporting requirements as other philanthropic vehicles,” Ferro explained. “It is beginning to include SRI, coalitions, advocacy, and network lifting. It is becoming increasingly proactive and cross-sectoral and most exciting; it is tremendously risk open since the returns don’t always translate as financial investments do.”
Families are thinking outside of the box and looking to make more “risky” investments, oftentimes amongst a coalition of other families or vehicles, which in turns helps lead sectors like local government or the business sector into more sustainable funding of the issue area, said Ferro. “In this way, families leverage what their unique value adds to the space and can have a much larger impact than their total dollars donated – something any smart business woman or man appreciates.”
Ferro’s specialty lies within working with families who are about to embark on their philanthropic journey or are having another transition, to help suss out where their interests lie and what path they should take. First step: deciding on why you are starting this journey, and to develop a course of action with a centralized goal across all of the family members who want to be involved in the work.
“We spend a lot of time with families on this idea, even if they have been philanthropically active for decades, since it’s a critical step often overlooked. Sometimes it takes the shape of a family philanthropy mission statement and sometimes it’s less formal,” she explains. “Regardless, if you are trying to go on a journey, but not everyone knows where you are going or why (or worse, disagrees with if you should be even going in that direction), it’s likely to create frustration and disappointment.”
Another aspect to be cognizant of is making sure of who within the family should take an active role in the philanthropic component of what a family office does. Ferro has seen time and time again situations where younger generations and spouses are left out of the process, which can create rifts or impede future succession planning goals. Deciding who gets to participate and making this decision clear will help families to create long lasting positive relationships.
The Rise of Philanthropic Travel
In terms of a trend, philanthropic travel is a much buzzed about concept in the space, alongside voluntourism and sustainable tourism, Ferro notes. “With the millennial generation more mindful of the many ways they can infuse their values into their everyday life (similarly to how many products at markets, malls, etc. have some sort of sustainable, cross marketed, giving promotion on their label), philanthropic tourism is a natural growth of this mindset,” she added.
What proves the most challenging from where Ferro sits is identifying meaningful opportunities around the country and, beyond that, it actually takes legwork to ensure families are placed into meaningful situations where they not only feel a sense of purpose to the mission, but also meaningfully better the community they’re working in and learning from. “This is not something that can be simply Googled, and typical travel agents won’t have the niche knowledge to help families find a coffee farmer in Peru who is creating local jobs for previously impoverished women in the community, for example,” she added.
In terms of first steps of how to get involved in philanthropic travel, Ferro suggests speaking with a philanthropic travel agent early so that they can help craft a unique experience that connects the family to their interests and current giving projects. It’s important to note that to make an impact through philanthropic travel, it’s not all about long-term travel. “The travel may be relatively brief, but the preparations and lessons learned could extend the investment throughout the year, making philanthropic travel an opportunity to build family relationships, learn more deeply about a specific issue area, and give
back in a way that is not just financial,” she says.
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