It’s become a popular term as an unprecedented transfer of wealth takes place across the world from one generation to the next. But what does ‘intergenerational philanthropy’ mean in practise? For families that are thinking of involving future generations in philanthropy, what should they be considering? We sat down with Melissa Duggan – daughter of John Laidlaw, who founded The John & Betty Laidlaw Legacy after the sale of his workwear business Hard Yakka – to hear about the importance of family giving that spans the generations.
Melissa, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us today. Tell me about how the John & Betty Laidlaw Legacy came into existence?
Throughout Dad’s life he’s been a hard worker. He built Hard Yakka to be a very successful company at the same time as raising kids and providing for his family. It wasn’t until he sold the business in 2008 and looked toward retirement that he was able to consider philanthropy. He had the time to reflect on how fortunate he’d been throughout his career and he wanted to provide opportunities to others in his community.
How long after the Legacy’s creation did you and your siblings get involved?
Dad didn’t discuss creating the Legacy with us, he just took it upon himself. He would often share with us which organisations he was giving to, but ultimately he was running the Legacy and seemed to get a lot of joy from it. At the time, my siblings and I were raising young families and so while we enjoyed hearing about Dad’s giving, it’s not something we had time for. About six years ago, Dad decided that he wanted to ‘hand over the reins’ to his children.
Is a culture of philanthropy important in the family?
Growing up, Mum worked for Riding For The Disabled which provided us the opportunity to see the joy that she brought the children that attended. Mum and Dad raised us with strong values including ‘treating everyone as an equal’ and the importance of giving to your community.
My children, Jasmine and Ben, have grown up with dinner-table discussions about the Legacy and social causes. It’s never something that we forced on her; just something that she learned by osmosis. Now that Jasmine is 19, she has just started to sit in on Legacy meetings and gain an understanding of how the Legacy works. It’s been lovely to see Jasmine meeting with charities – it’s almost the family business now. Jasmine admires John (‘Pop’) for the dedication and hard work he put into building his business and how he’s taken the same attitude towards his philanthropy.
What are some of the challenges you have when you’re making granting decisions as a family?
We’re a very respectful family and that helps when we’re having a discussion about granting. Each family member has their role; some like to go and meet with organisations while others like to do as much research as possible. Every member is respectful of everyone else. The challenges come when one member is particularly passionate about an organisation, does the ‘sales pitch’ but in the end it doesn’t quite resonate with the others. In those cases, we usually donate just a small amount to begin with and see where the relationship takes us.
Another challenge we have is knowing how long to stick with an organisation you’ve been supporting for a number of years. We don’t want organisations to feel uncertain about whether they will receive funding from us, but there’s also the question of how and when to move on to other organisations which is something we discuss a lot.
At the end of the day, every granting decision we make has to fit within the strategy that Dad created for the Legacy. That includes assisting people who are disadvantaged or homeless in Victoria as well as organisations that focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Have you experienced any learnings with your philanthropy?
Yes, I think we have but it’s been more around the breakdown or disconnection of a relationship between the organisation and us. For me, it’s all about relationships and making that connection and feeling like people are really committed to their cause. Sometimes it looks good on paper but maybe it doesn’t quite connect with you when it comes down to it. A lot of it is gut feeling in philanthropy.
What elements of John and Betty’s philosophy do you hope to see in the Legacy in 20 years’ time?
Philanthropy has been such a positive thing for our family. It’s brought us closer together with our Dad and strengthened us as siblings. I hope that Jasmine and her cousins experience the closeness that we’ve enjoyed as a result of philanthropy.
I hope the future generations will observe the clear values that Dad has set and follow along the lines of ‘if you’ve been fortunate, then being involved in philanthropy is a great way to pass that fortune on’. I hope that future generations think selflessly about ‘who should I be giving to’ rather than ‘what’s in it for me’. There will always be people falling on rough times and I hope that future generations involved in the Legacy will be helping to create opportunities to and make life easier for them. Dad would be super proud to know that his legacy has lived on for decades to follow.