COURTESY OF HAWAII COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
Jon and Eleyne Fia, along with their sons, Luke Jared, lower left, and Raiden, often give to charity. The Fias are putting in trust at least $2,000 a year upon their death for scholarships to help Waipahu and Campbell graduates attend college.
Charity strengthens families
Families that inherit big bucks will most likely squander their fortune by the third generation unless they work to set aside money for worthy charities.
So says Ellen Remmer, vice president of the Philanthropic Initiative, a nonprofit organization that gives advice on giving.
A charitable approach "strengthens families and brings them closer" as they talk about what they value and decide what their family should stand for in the community, Remmer said.
For instance, a family's "mission statement" could be "All children have a right to a good education." And they can dedicate their funds or skills to making that happen.
Remmer was in town recently to advise the Hawaii Community Foundation, but her recommendations can be applied to foundations that have a little or a lot.
A common misconception is that people make donations to avoid higher taxes, she said. A tax break might affect the amount they give or when they give, but aging "baby boomers going through the last third part of their lives ... want to make a difference," she said, because "the meaning of life becomes important."
"It's also known as brat-proofing the kids" who stand to inherit a lot of money, and their parents are afraid they might "fritter it away," Remmer said.
Jon and Eleyne Fia of Makakilo make a modest income as educators but are putting in trust at least $2,000 a year upon their death for scholarships to help graduates at Waipahu and Campbell high schools attend college.
As college counselors at these two schools, they have seen how a sound education can be a springboard to a productive life. Since she started at Campbell in 1999, Eleyne Fia has raised the percentage of kids going to college to 70 percent from 10 percent of the graduating class every year.
Jon Fia works two part-time jobs so they could start a college fund and savings plan for their own two sons.
"I'm not rich," he said. Eleyne Fia joked. "We eat at home a lot." Jon Fia said they know many other educators who also "give a lot of their own time and money to their kids (students)."
"We love our kids like our own second family," he said.
Although the scholarships the Fias have provided for are small, "that's (typical of) how my kids (students) get to college. ... They nickel and dime their way to college," Jon Fia said.
Eleyne Fia added, "We tell them to apply for every scholarship ... that every little bit helps."
At the same time, the Fias are raising their boys to understand that there are less fortunate people in the world, she said, and it makes them feel good to donate their toys to agencies that help children.
One of Hawaii's best examples of multigenerational wealth is the Baldwin family, which developed from the partnership of Alexander & Baldwin Inc., active in land development, ocean transportation, sugar and coffee.
It started in the early 1870s with Henry P. Baldwin and brother-in-law Samuel Alexander, who owned a small sugar plantation on the slopes of Haleakala.
"One day, faced with a serious drought that threatened the fledgling plantation, Baldwin got off his horse and knelt in the middle of a field," according to the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation's 2003 annual report. "He vowed that if God sent rain, he would faithfully give a portion of his earnings for God's purposes."
"The rain came," and both partners began five generations of funding charity work in Maui that established schools, libraries, churches and other services.
Christina Lyons Lambert succeeded her father, the late Michael H. Lyons II, as president of the foundation in 2004, and "personally gravitates towards programs that engage youth because they are our hope for tomorrow."
Family philanthropy "was something ingrained ... growing up with a father so involved, giving his time as well as resources," Lambert said.
To get involved
The Philanthropic Initiative's $10 primer on how to set aside family funds for a good cause is available at www.tpi.org or by calling (617) 338-2500. For local consultation, visit HawaiiCommunityFoundation.org.