It probably sounds strange to hear me say that your family needs a mission.  After all, companies have missions.  Military units have missions.  Charitable organizations have missions.  Sports teams have missions.  But families?  Not so much.  However, I believe that affluent families can really benefit when they have a clear mission that everyone understands. 

I’ve been working with quite a number of affluent families to develop these missions.  After reflecting on those experiences, I’ve identified five ways that family missions create unity and harmony – something that nearly every family struggles with – but especially affluent families.  Let me share these with you.   

 

THE FOUR PARTS OF A FAMILY MISSION 

You’ll notice that I haven’t been using the phrase – mission statement.  This is probably what most people think about when they hear the term mission.  The mission statement at their place of work might come to mind.  Or they might think about a military mission or even some type of explorer who goes on a mission to reach the summit of mount Everest.  These are all valid ways of thinking about a mission, but not quite what I have in mind when I talk about family missions.  

Mission statements are an important part of the missions I help affluent families develop.  However, articulating a mission statement is often the hardest part, which is why I leave this for last.  A family mission is much more than a mission statement.  I have yet to find a single mission statement that can do justice to the larger family mission – what the family is actually trying to achieve and the guiding principles and values that shape their decisions and actions.  This is why I take a different approach.  

The family missions that I help my clients create usually have four parts:

  • The family mission statement – often developed last and a summary of the parts below.
  • The family story – a history of where the family has come from and how they became affluent.
  • The family’s core values – the code that shapes their decisions and actions.
  • The guiding philosophy – the principles that allowed the wealth creator to achieve success. 

Let me explain each of these a bit because it is the process of developing these four areas that creates family unity.  

A family mission statement is a simple, clear and concise sentence or two about what the family is trying to accomplish and how they use their wealth to do so.  I believe that the simpler the statement, the better.   Here are some sample statements:

  • We use our wealth wisely to nurture our young and care for our old.
  • We commit a third of our time, energy and resources to work, a third to family and a third to philanthropy. 
  • We seek to inspire the next generation to become contributing members of society and good stewards of our family wealth.  
  • We use money to bless and sustain our family and to provide scholarships to disadvantaged people with great potential. 

No two families have the same mission statement because no two families share the same story or values.  The family story is a key part of the mission because the past shapes family leaders.  When I get a chance to sit down with people and ask them about their family history and what they’ve had to go through to get to where they are today – their stories amaze me!
 
But the challenge often seems to be that they are not telling their story to their children and grandchildren or even thinking about how their family history shapes the decisions they make today.  This is one reason that affluent families sometimes struggle with unity.  Different generations view things in different ways – especially money.  

When developing the family story, I ask my clients to describe the most important events that really stand out to them from their past.  Usually there are at least three or more major life events that shaped their character and that are still top of mind with them today.  These stories often give rise to a set of values that guide the family.  

The family’s core values often require a period of reflection.  I’ll ask my clients to list the top five or so values that shape their decisions and actions.  Usually the family members have to think about this for a while and try to put words to feelings.  Here are some examples of family values:

  • Trust – we support and stand by each other through good times and bad.
  • Integrity – we are honest with each other and tell the truth, even when that’s hard.
  • Stewardship – we seek to protect our resources and make good decisions with them.
  • Respect – we give people space to develop into their best selves and support their journey.
  • Bonds – we actively seek to foster family bonds through spending quality time together. 
  • Accountability – we hold each other accountable to live out our values. 

The family’s core values are somewhat different from the guiding principles that have given rise to the success of a wealth creator.  In many of the families I serve, this is often a patriarch or a matriarch who made careful choices and took a lot of risk.  Over the years, these guiding principles shaped what they did, and often did not, do.  

For example, some of my clients have a real commitment to science, technology and innovative break-throughs.  Other clients believe that real estate is the best path to creating long-lasting wealth.  Still other clients believe that being entrepreneurial and taking risk on opportunities that other people walk right past is their secret sauce.  

In summary, a family mission allows me to capture the spirit and essence of what a family is really all about and how they came to be that way.  
 

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"Financial planning is the cornerstone of wealth creation. This is why I am so committed to helping my clients build the right financial plan, tailored to their unique family."

THE FAMILY MISSION SHOULD BE PART OF THE BOOK 

I’ve been writing articles in Forbes.com about a strategy I call The Book.  These are personal finance books that collect a lot of scattered information into a single location for my clients.  This creates peace of mind for busy people with complex situations.  My clients tend to have a lot on their plates.  It seems that there are always details and deadlines rolling around in their minds and these tend to sap the joy out of life.  

Here is a fairly common scenario.  They are at home enjoying a movie or just relaxing with their family.  They get an email or see something in the movie that reminds them of a task on their to-do list that they haven’t gotten done yet.  Family time is interrupted by a gnawing feeling that they should be working on that task.  Their sense of ease and their ability to be fully present, in the moment, with their loved ones is suddenly diminished.  

The Book addresses this problem by getting things out of their head and down on paper.  When people see their book come together, it helps them relax.  But The Book also allows other people, like me, to step in and help manage details that my clients don’t really need to do themselves.  This frees my clients to enjoy life more and do the things they love.  The Book eases their minds.

An important part of these books is the family mission.   I prefer to have the mission as the opening section of The Book.  Here are some common sections that I might put into The Book for each client, depending on their situation.    

  • Family mission statement
  • The family story and history of how the wealth was created
  • The family’s top values 
  • The guiding philosophy, principle and belief system that gave rise to the family’s success
  • A complete listing of all assets and accounts
  • A comprehensive list of all advisors, what they advise on and how to contact them
  • The investment policy statement for all investments
  • Documents of all entities: trusts, LLP/LLC, insurance documents, property titles, appraisals, etc.
  • Charitable causes the family supports and a statement of charitable intent
  • Estate planning documents
  • Risk and asset protection strategies and documents: insurance, trusts, property casualty, etc.

As you can see, The Book covers a lot of territory.  Most of sections of The Book are about WHAT the family owns, how to protect it and who advises them.  But the mission is about WHY – why the wealth creators worked so hard and took so much risk in the first place – and HOW – how the family will use their resources to achieve the mission.  

After serving affluent clients for more than 20 years, I have come to believe that it is not advisable to create strategies for WHAT until I understand WHY.  I also find that as we get into the process of defining and articulating a family mission, this helps family members really think about what they want, and don’t want, to see happen in life.  That clarity is valuable. 

 

WHY DO AFFLUENT FAMILIES NEED A MISSION?

All families are subject to conflicts and differing ways of looking at the world.  This is very common among different generations who grew up with different lifestyles and life experiences.  The most prevalent example of this in the US is the conflicts between the baby boomer generation and their parents.  These types of conflicts are normal for any family. 

But for affluent families, these conflicts take on an extra dimension.  There is a distinct possibility that divisions over money can tear a family apart, sever ties and destroy family bonds.  Disagreements about what to do with money can produce the exact opposite outcome of what the wealth creator was hoping to achieve when they were working and taking risk for all those years.  

This is why affluent families need a mission.  The process of creating a mission allows families to come together and talk about what they really want out of life and what they value.  It also allows for members of differing generations to have a voice in what they value and how they think family wealth should be used.  

Family missions are even valuable for families with young children.  At the very least, the parents can describe the sacrifices they’ve made to get to where they are in life and the values that have guided them.  This can serve as a guide to their children as they mature.  

The end result of this process is often a more unified family that may not see everything the same way, but that mutually commits to the family mission.  This process can lead to a more solid and harmonious family unit.

 

FIVE WAYS A MISSION CAN HELP YOUR FAMILY

After creating family missions for numerous affluent families, I’ve come to identify five ways that the mission can lead to greater unity and harmony:

  1. It tells your family’s story – something that I think is very important and yet so affluent few families do it.  I often find that children and grandchildren of affluent families don’t know about the major life events that shaped their forebears.  When they hear these stories, it can give them a new-found respect and admiration for the courage and dedication of their forebears.  
  2. It helps you communicate your values and goals to younger generations and gives them a voice in the process.  This can reduce tension and help people feel more included in the family unit. 
  3. It creates a unified vision for what you will, and will not, use money to do.  This often gives wealth creators peace of mind that their hard-earned money is less likely to be squandered. 
  4. It creates a legacy that you can pass to your heirs.  This is true for young children who are not yet ready to hear certain stories and unborn generations who will come after wealth creators pass away.  
  5. It allows professional advisors to come to understand your family quickly, which allows them to serve you better.  This saves a family a lot of time because trying to communicate the mission requires a lot of effort.  It’s so much easier just to hand advisors your mission.  

 

HOW CAN I HELP?

I believe a family mission can produce greater peace of mind and family unity.  After more than 20 years of serving affluent families, I have not discovered a better approach for producing harmony than creating the mission.  If you or someone you care about needs a family mission, let’s talk.   

 

© 2019 Whitnell & Co.  The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only.