Passing Your Values Along to Others

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“Whether we are conscious of them or not, our values greatly influence our behavior as givers, including what we fund, how we evaluate projects, and how we relate to those we support,” writes author and philanthropist Tracy Gary.*

When you take the time to incorporate your values with your giving, you will be leaving a very personal legacy to the people and communities you care about. How do you start thinking about your own values?

Take some time to consider:

  • What experiences and people have been key in shaping your life? How did their values influence you?
  • What values are you expressing when you make important choices in your life—for example choosing your spouse, your friendships, and your career? How do you choose to use your time outside of work and family obligations? 
  • What inspires you to give—and why? 
  • When you’ve heard of world events or witnessed an injustice in your own community, what moved you most? With what have you been most troubled? Most delighted?
  • When family, friends, and your larger community think of you, what do you want them to think? Are you aware of what values they already attribute to you?

As you formulate your core values, write down key words, characteristics, or concepts as they come to mind. For example, note qualities of being (honorable, hard-working, innovative) and/or qualities of doing (feeding the hungry, providing educational opportunities for women, working to create more effective advocacy for those with mental illness) that are important to you.

An ethical will
One increasingly popular tool that will help you to kick-start your thoughts about legacy is an ethical will. An ethical will is a document in which you share your personal values and beliefs, life stories, advice, etc., with the intent of passing them on to future generations. An ethical will has no legally binding effect, however it is a very powerful way to communicate your values to the next generation. When you record your thoughts, you will also help to solidify your own values, and focus on the ones you want to pass on. 

Putting your values into action
Once you have drawn up a list of values, consider how you wish to pass them along. In addition to an ethical will, consider certain charitable bequests to causes you care about. How broadly within certain communities do you want to have impact—and for how long? Talk to staff at the organizations to work out how best to align your values with a fund at the organization. 

At Bryn Mawr, for example, it’s possible to create a fund today that will be fully endowed through your bequest or living will. That way, you’ll be assured that your intentions will be carried out as you wish.

Passing along your values begins with you. As Tracy Gary points out “creating a giving and legacy plan and being proactive with it may not only change your life, it might change the world.” 

* Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy, Jossey Bass (2008).