By Jessi Hempel
Danielle Durchslag, an effervescent 24-year-old who hopes to become a professional photographer, grew up in a family that has a motto of its own: "Nothing will ever be accomplished if all objections must first be overcome." Those are the words of her great-grandfather, Nathan Cummings, founder of Sara Lee (SLE ).
When Cummings died in 1985, he left the bulk of his fortune to seed a foundation in his name. Six years ago, Durchslag inherited a seat on the board of that foundation, which has an endowment worth more than $415 million.
Durchslag is one of a growing number of young people who are inheriting a philanthropic tradition. With a $41 trillion wealth transfer expected as baby boomers begin to retire, families are increasingly choosing to make giving part of the package. More than 20,000 family foundations are currently registered with the IRS.
As Durchslag has learned, there are certain challenges to inheriting a position on a foundation instead of, say, a family business. If you want to get out of a business, you simply sell your stake. But most foundations expect the family to stay involved -- and doing so often becomes a permanent part-time job, one that has to be juggled along with the demands of a career.
And many young philanthropists have their own ideas about what causes they wish to support, which may not be the same ones the foundation has traditionally favored.
Along with a fortune often comes a feeling of isolation and a culture of silence, Durchslag has found. Many inheritors are tight-lipped about family money. "Among the young and wealthy, we often ask each other: 'Are you out?'" Durchslag says.
When she joined the board of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Durchslag says she felt unsure of where to turn for advice. So she co-founded Grand Street, a support group for philanthropists aged 18 to 28 whose focus is on giving to Jewish organizations.
Growing up in Chicago, her family dinner conversations often revolved around foundation projects. When, at 15, she announced she wanted to attend board meetings, her family welcomed her. She became an associate board member at 18, and when she turns 25 she has the option to assume voting rights as one of 14 full board members -- an opportunity she looks forward to.
Also, along with each interested family member, Durchslag receives a few thousand dollars every year -- pending board approval -- to fund her own causes. Durchslag supports Boston-based Girls LEAP, which teaches inner-city girls about feminism through self-defense.
WHY, NOT HOW.
As a teen, Durchslag's ideas about how to give away money led to conflict with her father. Steve Durchslag has spent a lifetime supporting traditional Jewish causes like his local United Jewish Federation and wanted his daughter to do the same. "That wasn't for me," says Danielle, whose first gift, at 15, was to a group trying to heal relations between African Americans and Jews.
Family relationships were much on her mind when she started to bring together young Jewish philanthropists two years ago. Families sometimes push their progeny to think about how to give, but not why to give.
"It's a deeper question," says Durchslag, explaining the difference between learning the nuts and bolts of grant-making and examining the reasons behind it. It's important to understand why giving matters to both the family and the individual, she says.
APPROACHING THE ELDERS.
Today, through Grand Street, more than two dozen young givers meet to talk about issues ranging from the importance of philanthropy to how to talk to older family members about giving. The discussions are facilitated by a professional donor and an inheritor a few years older.
One of the first to sign on was Scott Belsky, 25, a trustee for the $30 million Kaplan Family Foundation. Belsky and four other family members are largely responsible for distributing some $1.4 million every year. In addition to his job as an analyst for a New York City investment bank, Belsky spends roughly 12 hours a month on foundation work. Another Grand Street member is Rebecca Richards, 29, a New York lawyer who is a trustee for the Tulsa (Okla.)-based Maxine & Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, which has an endowment worth $47 million.
Both Richards and Belsky come from families that encouraged them to speak up about foundation matters, but Richards says Grand Street inspired her to come up with new ideas about how to discuss giving with her family. And it has helped Durchslag introduce programs like the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which focuses on helping women participate in Orthodox Jewish life, to her foundation.
"I can talk more confidently -- not just about my thoughts, but about trends among my peers," Durchslag says. This has lent her credibility with her father, who no longer worries that she doesn't support Jewish life. Instead, he turns to her for information about issues affecting young Jews.
Recently, the two planned a seminar for the foundation's board members and employees that included a discussion with a young filmmaker and a performance by a Hasidic reggae band from the eclectic music label, JDub.
With support from Grand Street, Durchslag is finding her own ways to carry on the family tradition.
With Dana Goldstein in New York
Hempel is a staff editor for BusinessWeek in New York
Edited by Patricia O'Connell