Duncan, Eli, and Marta Robinson

Using a donor advised fund to teach the next generation about the gift of giving

The Robinson kids were a little baffled at first. But bafflement quickly gave way to realization, and realization to a feeling of extreme good fortune.

Their parents had just announced their Christmas present: a donor advised fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Marta, Eli, and Duncan Robinson (ages 23, 21, and 17) were named the advisors to the fund — and so would direct annual grants to nonprofit organizations for … well, for the rest of their lives. 

“I was like completely blown away,” said Marta. “I was a little confused at first, because I wasn’t entirely sure about what exactly we would be doing. Once they explained it, I felt totally blessed that they were going to give us this opportunity to give back to a community that is so important to the three of us.”

Elisabeth and Jeffrey Robinson wanted to give their kids a meaningful beginning to a lifetime of philanthropic and community involvement.

Elisabeth is a nurse practitioner and chair of the foundation’s Piscataqua Region advisory board. Jeffrey teaches sixth grade.

“As parents, I think our biggest job is to teach our children how to be in the world,” Elisabeth said. “And how to be in the world is how to take care of each other. Especially when you’re blessed with abundance — to share it is a powerful thing.” The process of setting up the fund through the foundation was a simple one.

“Basically, Jeffrey and I believe in the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation as it is a ‘wise’ way to invest in the community,” Elisabeth said. “We also wanted our children to inherit and taste the fun, joy, and responsibility in giving back and investing in the community.”

Marta, Eli, and Duncan named their fund the Robinson Family Fund.

“I was very touched by the idea that they wanted us to have the opportunity to give back, but also that this would be something that we would have forever,” said Marta. “The fact that it’s so long lasting — that we will pass this down to our children and hopefully our children will pass it on to their children — is such a neat concept.”

The fund was started with $25,000 and, through a 10 percent matching grant from the foundation’s Spaulding-Potter Fund, the Robinsons had $2,500 to give away immediately.

“We were kind of overwhelmed at first, because we really had no idea what was the best way to do it,” said Duncan.

“Celina [Adams, a foundation senior program officer] really, really helped us. She gave us a whole list of organizations that we would possibly be interested in, and a short summary of each one. And one day we sat down and went down the list, and each of us had common interests, and we all kind of had our personal ones, and we tried to cover the whole spectrum.”

They ended up splitting the money three ways — part to Child and Family Services toward the operation of a van that delivers necessities to homeless teenagers, part to an organization preserving African-American burial grounds, and part to the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group that focuses on protecting beaches and oceans.

“I think it’s really important for the younger generation to get to experience giving back,” said Marta, who works for a nonprofit child literacy organization in California.

Duncan agreed. “I go to a boarding school, so everything is here — I can just walk and get food, everything is at the tip of my fingers, basically. So to be able to give back while you’re getting so much, it kind of balances it out. As I get older, I plan on continuing to give.”

Marta said that the process has gotten her thinking about happiness. She is reminded of the children’s story “The Rainbow Fish.” The fish had many shiny scales, but was lonely and unhappy. A wise octopus advised him to share his scales with other fish. The Rainbow Fish gave away all but one. As the story goes: “the more he gave away, the more delighted he became.”

“A car can’t make you happy — it’s not that inner flame within you that is truly happiness,” said Marta. “It’s not even about money. If you can give time, if you have the ability, you need to share. It’s like the ‘Rainbow Fish’ — look at the change you can make by giving.”

For more information on setting up a donor advised or other type of fund at the foundation, contact Shari Landry, vice president of philanthropy, at (603) 225-6641, ext. 1265 or sl@nhcf.org

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