Carrying the Torch of Generosity

Audio Description

With the fourth generation of family involved and over $2B in grants, the John Templeton Foundation has etched an enduring legacy. This Giving Tuesday, we asked Heather Templeton Dill—foundation president—for her thoughts on the keys to success.


This transcript has been generated by an A. I. tool. Please excuse any typos.

00:06 - 00:40

Welcome to Women and Wealth. I'm Beata Kirr, Co-Head Investment Strategies at Bernstein. And this show aims to educate and inspire women to make the right choices for their wealth. Last year, 35 million donors participated in Giving Tuesday, raising $2.7 billion. And some experts predict that figure could cross the $3 billion threshold this year. Beyond that, Giving Tuesday is also a day to reflect how mindful and intentional are you with your giving.

00:41 - 01:36

Well, today I am delighted to have a guest with personal experience aligning values with giving. Heather Templeton Dill is the President of the John Templeton Foundation, a $3 billion foundation that's in the top 30 of U.S. foundations that has granted over $2 billion since its inception. It's one of the largest private charitable organizations supporting scientific endeavors as well. Now, Heather is the granddaughter of the late Sir John Templeton, who you may be familiar with, but just in case, he was a legendary investor, a real pioneer in the value style and one of the most successful investors of the 20th century and the founder of the Templeton Funds. So today, I'm really excited to talk to Heather about her role in preserving her family's philanthropic legacy and what she's learned about the authenticity of giving and family governance along the way. Heather, thank you so much for joining me.

01:36 - 01:39

My pleasure. It's great to be with you today. Thank you.

01:40 - 01:52

And there's so much to say about the Templeton Foundation, an organization of this size, of this magnitude for this long. It's a big job. Is there something that I missed in the description that you'd like our listeners to hear?

01:52 - 02:18

Well, a good summary of the work that we support is that the John Templeton Foundation funds research and we catalyze conversations to enable people to create lives of purpose and meaning. And anyone who's interested can learn a great deal about the work we fund and exactly what that mission statement means by visiting us at Templeton dot org. Clicking on news and insights and reading Templeton ideas.

02:18 - 02:31

It's like a double benefit talking to you and releasing this and giving Tuesday because it's not just about intentionality, but it's that your organization is focused on purpose and meaning as well. So it's a really interesting mission statement in that way.

02:32 - 03:21

So I want to start with talking about the history. There's so much deep history in your family and in the foundation and in the mission statement. And it sounds like you always knew that you would join your family foundation someday. But the timing of that, of course, was not always in your control. And in fact, your succession was accelerated when your father passed away in 2015. And at that time, I understand you are already working alongside him at the organization. You are also pursuing a second master's degree. So obviously leaning in to education, one of your other real primary focus areas for the foundation. But what was it really like, Heather, in terms of transitioning from working alongside your father to stepping into the present role as a leader?

03:22 - 04:11

It was actually a seamless transition and there are two reasons why the transition was smooth. The first is the team at the John Templeton Foundation. When my dad passed away, his death was a loss for the team just as much as it was for our family. Dad had served as president of the foundation since its inception. He dedicated his time full time to the work of the foundation since 1995, and he oversaw a significant growth of the foundation from 2008 to 2012 when he passed away. The senior leaders at the foundation carried on the work. They tended to all the details. I provided guidance and direction, but every team member worked to carry us through that year and then to move on beyond his leadership.

04:12 - 04:37

And then the second reason the transition was seamless was because of the opportunities my dad gave me to work alongside him, to serve on the board of trustees, to learn the business by sitting next to him. In these meetings, he gave me the opportunity to try new things, give presentations, make a few mistakes here and there, so that by the time he did pass away, I was well prepared to step into this role.

04:37 - 05:04

That's awesome. I have to say I rarely hear that as the answer. So that really speaks to great planning and governance. And also I think it's rare for children to really view their parents as wonderful mentors and teachers. I just thinking back to my father teaching me how to ski, I would not comment that that was a positive experience. And so it's a pretty different magnitude, but it sounds like. You really did have a wonderful teacher in your father.

05:04 - 05:34

I did. My mother always said that he was a teacher. And in fact, his primary career was as a pediatric surgeon. But he taught or he worked in a teaching hospital. So he was a doctor, teacher. And he also said that when he left the foundation's work, had he lived, he wanted to go and teach sixth grade. So I think teaching was part of who he was. He's one of the reasons I became a teacher. And then he brought that to his work at the foundation and his work with both me and my sister.

05:34 - 05:50

Well, it's wonderful to hear that. So I think about our listeners giving Tuesday is really a great opportunity to think about connecting values to philanthropy. And we talk a lot about intentionality in that kind of activity spectrum.

05:50 - 06:18

How did you come to connect to the foundation's mission over time? I think it's really interesting that you have a humanities background, and yet some of the grantmaking that you do literally involves quantum physics, right? So it's not always things that you're necessarily an expert in or familiar with, but you have to connect to the mission. So how do you balance the need to preserve that original vision with your own desire to put your stamp on things?

06:18 - 06:58

Well, I joined the Board of Trustees for the John Templeton Foundation in 2009, and in the case of our foundation, the trustees make decisions on most of the grants that we fund on an annual basis. So in that role, I was reviewing proposals across a range of scientific domains, including physics, cosmology, chemistry, biology, genetics, and even psychology, philosophy and theology. So you're right, I'm not an expert in any of these areas, but the exposure to grants, the names of the researchers involved in this kind of work and the many different topics we explored helped me appreciate the breadth of the work that the foundation supports.

06:58 - 07:28

And I also think of my grandfather. He spent time with scientists. He funded science, but I don't actually know whether he read scientific journals and articles. He certainly never cited journals and articles in his writings, but he did read scientists who wrote books for a wider audience. And in the same way, I have been able to engage in this scientific work through reading books that are not published in academic journals and also through some of my academic training.

07:28 - 07:49

So my second master's degree was in the history and sociology of science. It's sort of a back door way for somebody trained in the humanities to engage with science. I have a better understanding of the context of scientific development. So that's really the way in which I came to appreciate my grandfather's philanthropic vision and the work that we do at the John Templeton Foundation.

07:49 - 07:50

That's awesome.

07:50 - 08:32

I have to ask, because of course, this is women and wealth. We may also be playing this show on other channels because there's so much interest in this topic of giving. But from the lens of women and wealth, we focused on quite a few episodes around the idea of how women give differently. Women are very passionate about giving, but there are some key differences that we've seen in terms of the types of causes that they fund and also the approach that they take to philanthropy. So I'm curious when you reflect on the imprint that you've made on the foundation, do you think there were things that you are doing differently or did differently at the helm compared to your predecessors?

08:32 - 09:32

So I have just the one predecessor, and that is my father. And actually, in many ways, I'm very much like my father. So when I reflect on that question, I wonder how different I than the way he led in my role at the John Templeton Foundation. I have tried to be collaborative, so collaborative within the foundation as well as collaborative with external partners. I've also tried to support the ideas of the JTF team members. So instead of bringing forward my goals and objectives as the only way to move the foundation forward, I have sought the input and the perspectives and the passions of our team. And then I've also prioritized listening to the board because the board is a strategic partner along with me. Those aspects are different than the way that my dad led. And so whether that relates to the fact that I'm a woman or not, I'm not sure because I'm very similar to my dad. But collaboration, partnership and lots of conversation have been the ways that I've tried to lead the foundation.

09:32 - 09:45

I'm curious, did you start talking to your father about the foundation in its giving? Like what age were you when you had a sense that this existed and that this was something that you started to become a part of just even informal conversation at home?

09:46 - 10:16

So the foundation was established in 1987, and the first office was in my parents garage. Many people start businesses in garages. My grandfather started his philanthropy in a garage. I was around it from a very young age. And that. And when I turned 18 years old, my grandfather asked me to serve on the board of the John Templeton Foundation. I had no idea what it meant to serve on a board, but that was the first opportunity where I really started to engage in a serious way.

10:17 - 10:47

When I became a teacher, I became more engaged with some of the funding areas that overlap with the subjects I was teaching. And then I rotated off the board, came back onto the board in 2009, and that is really the time period. I was older where I really engaged with my dad, challenged my father and some of his thinking, but also sought to learn from how he carried on his own father's philanthropic mission. So I've been living and breathing it for a very long time.

10:47 - 11:09

And I think that speaks volumes to the ease of the transition. And like you said, this this concept of legacy and values. And that's sometimes in stark contrast to what we've heard from other guests where there was sometimes a gender imbalance in some families as to who the parents spoke to in the next generation. I think in your family, did you have any male siblings or.

11:09 - 11:27

I did not have any male siblings, and I had two parents. Actually. My mother was an accomplished professional in her own right, a physician as well who helped my sister. And I believed that we could do whatever we wanted to do. And they were absolutely supportive of our goals and passions.

11:27 - 11:33

That's wonderful. Well, you can see and feel and hear how that, you know, carries through to the legacy.

11:33 - 12:17

So speaking of family, I think it's important to point out that, you know, you're not alone in your mission and obviously your style is so collaborative. And like you've said several times, surrounded by the board of trustees that are super important as well as all of the team at the foundation. So I thought it was important to point out that your sister Jennifer had chaired the foundation's board of trustees for six years, and now you're working closely with, I understand, your second cousin, Lauren, who serves as chair and as an investment manager, also based in Tennessee. So I was curious, what has that journey been like working alongside other family members? And are there ever some moments where it's tough to navigate family dynamics?

12:18 - 13:16

Well, I would start by noting that my grandfather wanted family members involved in the work of the John Templeton Foundation. 25% of the board must consist of family members. He appointed his nephew as secretary of the foundation, his niece as treasurer of the foundation when he created the organization in 1987. I've worked along alongside family members for many years. When I was on the board, there were other family members on the boards with respect to working with family members. Every good relationship is built on trust and respect, and every leader needs a chair who is a sounding board to ask tough questions. Who expects your best performance? And both my sister and my cousin, Lauren Templeton, have been just that for me. They have really co-led this organization and helped me to navigate challenging circumstances, giving advice when I needed it.

13:16 - 13:52

We don't always agree on every aspect of the work that we do or maybe even on every decision that I make. But the foundation starts with a good relationship. We're just friends. We have respect for each other. And I found that that helps us navigate those points of tension or the moments when we disagree. And sometimes I defer. Sometimes they defer to me because I am the CEO, as it were, and I'm charged with really overseeing the work we do on a daily basis. So it's actually been an incredibly wonderful opportunity to work with family.

13:52 - 13:56

Yeah, I know. Everything sounds like it's going very well.

13:56 - 14:37

What about? Well, you are on four generations of involvement in this foundation, so you've had a lot of time really to hone your expertise. And it's clear that I'm assuming you must have some really strong mechanisms and governance structures in place. And I think for our listeners and clients that, you know, think about forming foundations, I think it's always helpful to pass on wisdom. What advice do you have? What are some of the strongest things you've done that's been helpful in kind of navigating conflicts? Or perhaps do you have any don't do this advice, any real reflections on those mechanisms and governance that have helped you?

14:37 - 15:27

I have a lot of perspective on what we have done to facilitate good working relationships among the family. And my grandfather thought through all of these details. So the big to do item is to think about the structure and to articulate that structure in advance. As I mentioned, 25% of the board. Consist of family members. My grandfather also created another governing body. That governing body is called honorary members. Honorary members are kind of like shareholders are to a for profit corporation, but they don't have a financial interest in the foundation. They have two important roles. They're the ones that elect the board of trustees. We have rotation on the board of trustees, and they're also the only body that can change our governing documents.

15:27 - 16:24

Now, honorary members consist of more than just family members, but the largest group of honorary members are family members. So that's one way in which we involve family members. There's a lot of structure in place. Then in addition, good working relationships depend on the personal relationships that you have with family members. So one of the reasons it might sound like things are going well is because we invest a lot of time and effort into getting to know our other family members. We hold quarterly virtual calls. This is an innovation brought on by the pandemic. We gather together once a year. Not everybody can come every year, but we make an effort to gather. And then the work of the foundation brings us together. So we do a little bit of business rooted in philanthropy together. All of those structures have enabled the productive working relationships, and then our efforts to just stay connected, continue that ability to work well together.

16:24 - 16:38

Really sage advice. The structure is clearly working for the foundation. And as you know, that's not always the case across family, businesses or foundations, there's a lot of rifts that can arise. So four generations is a lot to be proud of for that.

16:38 - 16:49

That's right. Foundation structure still leaves a lot of room for innovation as well. And so that's where we put in the time and effort to not take the structure for granted to support it with good family relationships.

16:50 - 17:43

Okay. Well, innovation is a great segway to be talking about how you have been supporting research. And back to the big picture of the Templeton Foundation. I mean, not only do you have the Templeton Prize and Templeton ideas, but obviously your grantmaking is so powerful. And the mission statement around helping people find purpose and meaning in life is so big, it's overwhelming. It's like the universe to me. It's like it's such a big problem to solve, right? But you really do a great job in breaking it down into different aspects of it. And so I thought we could just focus on some of those aspects that I personally found are some of the most interesting. And so the first one was this idea around generosity, where the foundation has helped fund research that offers a more nuanced understanding of it. So can you speak to that, Heather? And what are some of the takeaways that you found?

17:43 - 18:21

When we fund something like generosity, we've also funded work and gratitude and curiosity. We start by defining the term. So generosity is the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. And as we have studied generosity and learned a bit about what it looks like in our daily experience, we find that humans are naturally inclined to be generous, which is really exciting. So even at a very young age, 14 month old children demonstrate a propensity to help you find something. If they sense that you can't find what you're looking for. And we think that's really exciting.

18:22 - 19:16

We've also learned that while humans are sort of inclined to be generous, they aren't often as generous as they want to be or even as they could be. And then we've funded a lot of work around the benefits of generosity. So there are physical mental health benefits to being a generous person. That doesn't mean you have to give money away. In fact, if you volunteer, that often brings more satisfaction and fulfillment fulfillment. So in addition to having better mental health, physical health, people who give in a variety of different ways are report that they are more fulfilled. We also have some evidence that suggests you live longer if you're a more generous person. So those are some of the research projects we have pursued and some of what we're learning about generosity. There's certainly a lot more that we could do.

19:16 - 19:28

Yeah, I'm not paid by giving Tuesday in any way, but considering we're releasing this and giving Tuesday and what you just said, it does sound like we should be telling people to give more. Give it to say, right, if that's good for you.

19:28 - 19:44

That's right. And people give in a variety of different ways. They give to charitable activities, they give it their time. They also give to family members or they'll put an extra tip in the jar when they're buying coffee. And I think all of those are forms of giving that we should be thinking about and counting, if possible.

19:45 - 20:03

Yeah, I love the idea of suddenly buying a coffee for the person behind you. Our family has done that once in a while for a variety of reasons, and it's not necessarily seeing the person behind you doing it. And it's it's a really fun little thing to do. Just. The smallest things can make a very big difference in the day.

20:03 - 20:25

And that's what else. We've also learned that witnessing acts of generosity inspire other acts of generosity. And of course, we see commercials on that. And when you see a social media post of somebody doing something for somebody else, often they generate a lot of likes and sharing. So what you just said is, is a way to not only be generous, but to inspire others to be generous.

20:25 - 20:47

Yeah, I think you can just see I'm beaming ear to ear because it just makes me so happy that there's all this good that makes you happy. It's a wonderful circle. I'm curious how in your own home, you know, you're doing so much good at the foundation and you've got four children of your own. How do you now instill these values into them? Are there some mom tricks of the trade here that you can share?

20:47 - 21:38

Well, it's a work in progress, I would say. I draw from my own experience with my parents the very first act of giving that I remember being involved with with my parents is volunteering. And that's probably the most profound memory I have as well, where it was around the holiday time. But we adopted a family. We secured their gift list and then we went and purchased both a Christmas dinner, a holiday dinner and the gifts that they needed for for their family. And that was a practice that my parents established. I have tried to do that with my own children, where we get our hands dirty, we get our hands engaged before we even think about what it means to give money, because volunteering, I think, establishes that sense of generosity and also creates the joy or brings the joy that comes along with taking your own time to serve another.

21:39 - 21:45

Yeah, great tips. So don't just get the list and buy it on Amazon. Go out and get it together and make it.

21:45 - 21:45

That's right.

21:45 - 21:48

A team outing, a family outing it really.

21:48 - 21:53

And then if you're in a position, delivering it to the recipients is also deeply meaningful.

21:53 - 21:54


21:54 - 22:39

Let's move on to this other aspect of your grant making, which I found equally as fascinating, and it's this idea of religious pluralism. And I think it's so interesting that you were raised in a family that was really from a conservative Christian tradition. Yet the foundation's grants have funded projects across all different religions, right? The winners of the Templeton Prize have ranged from Mother Teresa to Rabbi Laura Jonathan Sachs to King Abdullah of Jordan. And in a world that seems increasingly fractured with people in their corners, if you will, in their echo chambers. Talk to me about this interfaith engagement and how you've thought about that at the foundation.

22:39 - 23:20

My grandfather wrote a wonderful book called Wisdom from World Religions, where he captured sayings, maxims principles from faith traditions across the world. And if you read that book, you find that religious traditions have a lot in common. So for us at the John Templeton Foundation, interfaith engagement is important because religious believers all over the world are trying to live good and noble lives. They often care about the same things, and there is value in recognizing what people of different faith traditions have in common. At the same time, religious traditions are very different. And interfaith engagement helps us recognize and understand these differences.

23:20 - 24:00

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, for example, called this the dignity of difference. Eboo Patel, who is the founder of Interfaith America, talks about interfaith engagement as a potluck dinner. So in the American context, instead of thinking about the great melting pot, we should use this image of a potluck dinner where everybody brings the best of what they have to a shared table. And it's in that context where we can learn to work together on challenges that confront all of us. But we can't do that unless we know each other. And more or less, we understand what we have in common as well as what's different about us. And that's where our strength really comes. That's wonderful.

24:00 - 24:14

That book sounds fabulous to read. I think it's so important these days to find different ways we can come together and really find common views when it feels like there's so much of the world that's breaking us apart. It's a really timely message, Heather.

24:15 - 24:33

Well, we've spent almost 30 minutes together. This conversation could go on for a long, long time because it's so fascinating. But I'll have to close out with the question that I ask everybody and really not just on giving Tuesday. It's an every episode this question of what does investing with intention mean for you?

24:34 - 25:02

Investing with intention means seeing philanthropy or giving as a form of investment in which the returns go to others and not to me. Therefore, one needs to think carefully about what they give money to, how they give it, and then also how much they give to maximize return for others. So just like financial investing, giving money away well requires long term thinking, and that's what it means. To invest with intention.

25:02 - 25:16

What a perfect ending to a really robust discussion. Heather, it's been such a pleasure sitting down with you. Is there anything else you want to leave our listeners with? Any other wisdom from your accumulated years of philanthropic work?

25:16 - 25:31

I will leave them with the concept of the joy of giving. That was my grandfather's great joy to sell his investment company and dedicate his work full time to his philanthropic ambitions. And it has been truly my joy to carry on that legacy.

25:32 - 25:52

Well, they are lucky to have you. Thanks again, Heather, and thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoyed the podcast and haven't subscribed to our show, please go to Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you listen to subscribe and rate us. You can also find us on Twitter at Bernstein P.W or find me the attacker on LinkedIn.

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