Mother-daughter duo Katherine Seligmann and Rebecca Balter concede that family philanthropy can be challenging due to the many different personalities and family dynamics involved, but can be successful with three things: 1) You share a core set of values, 2) You are interested in and educated on the issues, and, 3) The knowledge that at the end of the day you love each other.

Their family history is somewhat remarkable. The family had a successful banking business in Germany, but the majority of their assets were seized as the Nazis infiltrated in the 1930s, and the family fled to the United States. “It wasn’t a dramatic escape,” said Cathi, “but it was smart to get out.”

There has been a legacy of philanthropy through multiple generations. “I’m not sure where it came from, but my grandparents were just very civic minded. They were big supporters of workers’ rights as well as community. A good example is that they built the first public pool in Dresden. During that time people were starting to think about exercise as something you proactively did for health, so this facility provided access to aquatic exercise and entertainment for everyone. They also developed the first corporate pension plan in Germany for their employees at the bank, and were big supporters of the arts.”

After arriving in the US, Cathi’s two uncles, Henry and Rainer, continued the legacy. She describes them as “a fabulous pair because they were so opposite from one another, but both so generous. When on vacation together, Henry would often stay in the finest hotels while Rainer would stay at a youth hostel. Henry focused a lot on building back the banking business, and worked diligently towards restitution, which ultimately was a successful endeavor. Rainer was a pediatrician and spent much of his spare time in underdeveloped parts of the world. Whenever he had accumulated enough vacation, he would go to places, mostly in Africa, and work with NGOs and clinics to help children.” Rebecca shared that, “When he died his estate went into his foundation, the Mulago Foundation, which continues to support innovation in health education and the environment in the context of access to clean food, clean water, and healthy foods in the most rural and low-income parts of the world.”

When Cathi’s father, Otto, finally retired at 80 his four children established a foundation. “We knew he would need something to do so my siblings and I each contributed money for him to start the Esther and Otto Seligmann Foundation. When we gave it to him we said, ‘This is to keep you busy in retirement.’ When he and my mother died the four of us took the foundation over and saw just pages and pages and pages of things he had donated to - he donated to everybody and everything! So we tried to compress that a little bit. Now with the next generation, Rebecca and her cousins, they have pushed us to have a mission statement, a vision. We still see keeping the next generation connected as the most important mission.”

Rebecca appreciates that viewpoint and takes it a step further. “The foundation is absolutely a vehicle for communication, and also an opportunity to explore and encourage philanthropy in a low stakes environment to foster it in the next generation. It’s been a really interesting process with my cousins, thinking about the things we are passionate about and can move forward with together. We are different in many ways, but also share core values. We might have disagreements about the best method to solve certain problems, but we are fortunate that we kind of all agree on what the issues are that we want to focus on. Growing up I always got the message you should spend your life doing something that matters and not necessarily just making a lot of money or creating a legacy or being well-liked.”

Rebecca says while there is no “secret sauce” for successful inter-generational philanthropy, another aspect she says is important is a commitment to educating oneself about problems and issues in the world. “In terms of my cousins who are most involved, one worked at a very large foundation for a while, another got deep into the environmental and conservation space, and me, in college I got pulled into social justice activism. Once you open up that box, you get pulled deeper and deeper into it, so by the time I was in a place to be working with my mom on giving I already had strong feelings about the landscape of issues that exist. The education led me to the interest in philanthropy versus the other way around.”

In 2015 when parts of the family business were sold, Rebecca and Cathi experienced a windfall, and it was at that point they opened a donor-advised fund with Triangle Community Foundation. “I had heard about the Foundation a few years prior but had turned down the opportunity to open a fund because I thought I could decide what I give directly,” said Cathi. “But when this happened, we spent a lot of time looking at options because we were really interested in impact investing, since wherever the funds landed, they weren’t going to be given away all at once. The Foundation had an established impact investing fund and staff with deep local knowledge who we could partner with to identify how our funds could do the most good.”

Since partnering with the Foundation, Cathi and Rebecca have both become very involved. Cathi has served on the Sustainable Communities impact area grant committee for several years and has been very appreciative to have done so, since it has introduced her to many different nonprofits operating in the space and also helped her understand the importance of multi-year and general operating grant giving, a shift the Foundation has purposely been making in recent years.

Rebecca is currently a Board member where she serves on multiple committees. What she appreciates is the Foundation centering nonprofits rather than donors. “Historically philanthropy was seen as money being the only thing that mattered. ‘I have money, you need money, and thus I have power.’ But there is now more of an understanding that there are many kinds of capital – social capital, relational capital, and lived experience capital, for example. When you acknowledge that, it levels the playing field, because you're recognizing that everybody showing up to the table has something critical for solving the problem, and it dissolves some of the power dynamic when you see nonprofits as authentic partners. Knowing that Foundation staff are doing the learning and leaning into that makes me feel like I can trust the Foundation to be acting in my best interest as a funder.”

Cathi and Rebecca have developed a routine that works well for them in terms of planning and executing their family giving. They meet every Tuesday to discuss their philanthropy, and in fact this interview took place on one of those Tuesdays! They are both respectful of the others’ thinking about giving, with Cathi focusing a lot of her attention on environmental and climate change issues. Rebecca rounds it out with a social justice lens, and Rebecca says, “Maybe there have been a couple of times I’ve said I wouldn’t prioritize the issue the same way my mom does, but I respect her decisions and thought processes, and on the flip side, pretty much any time I've come to her with an organization I'm excited about, she’s been happy to support it.”