The new Flesher Family Foundation has been making grants for a couple of years now, picking up philanthropy the way one might, for example, learn the rules of soccer.
In fact, its president, Whitney Flesher, does play soccer, for Episcopal Collegiate. At 15, she may be the youngest person anywhere to head up a private non-profit foundation. Younger brother Andrew, 12, is surely the youngest treasurer. Older brother Paxton, 17, the secretary, could have some competition, but it's unlikely.
The children - the only officers of the Flesher Family Foundation - have eased into their roles, and in their quasi-quarterly meetings in 2003 voted to give away a total of $17,950. Their beneficiaries: P.A.R.K. (Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids); scholarship funds for undergraduate nursing students, single parents and The Anthony School; and their father's alma mater, Hendrix College.
It didn't come naturally - but then, who does jump at the chance to give away their money? When their father, Greg Flesher, came up with the idea to create a genuine 501(c)3, the kids asked gee, what about our college educations? What about a new car for mom?
Their reaction was "not altogether unreasonable," Flesher said. But Flesher, owner of the Moore, Stephens, Frost accounting firm, had gotten "all fired up" and decided to go ahead. He funded it with $40,000, the money he saved by abandoning his desire for a luxury car and going with a smaller one.
If they were unused to the idea of giving away money at first, the Flesher children quickly moved into their roles. The first thing they did was rewrite the mission statement their father proposed. It is "To provide the means for less fortunate people to have an opportunity to have a successful, productive life," with a focus on children and education, and, if all are in agreement, other worthy causes.
Andrew, who as bookkeeper is the most involved with the foundation, had a neatly penciled spread sheet before him during a recent interview at the family dining room table. What were the foundation's assets? He looked at his father - she means money, right? Right. Andrew ran a finger down the page, did some math in his head - he's the son of two certified public accountants - and came up with a figure: $31,997.65. The largest grant? $8,000, to P.A.R.K., where his mother, Dora Jane Flesher, volunteers. The smallest? $300, to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
The one that mean the most to him? That was easy. "One of our friends who lived on our old street, his brother was diagnosed with diabetes," Andrew explained. "And his mom typed a note and sent it around" to people in the neighborhood. The note explained the illness - Andrew was surprised and concerned by how many shots the child would have to take - and praised the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the research it funds. "So we sat around," Andrew said, and talked about what to do. They gave the foundation $900 in honor of the boy.
Whitney's favorite has been the $4,000 nursing scholarship the foundation has established at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The kids jest that their father - a former basketball player who just had a knee replacement - is going to need good nursing care.
That gift came after Flesher, a UALR Foundation Board member, heard Nursing Department head Ann Schlumberger speak about UALR's need for scholarships to help put more people in nursing jobs. Paxton, Whitney and Andrew met with Schlumberger afterward and voted to establish the scholarship, which will be renewed on a yearly basis with one caveat: That they get to attend their student's graduation.
Flesher's first inkling that creating a foundation might be a good thing to came to him at a YPO (Young Presidents Organization, also known, Andrew chirped, as "Your Dad Owns it") retreat on spirituality when he was given Kenneth Blanchard's "The Generosity Factor."
"My wife makes fun of me, says it's so corny, which it is," Flesher said. But it's message he took to heart: You may be successful, but are you significant? It's a message he wants his kids to learn as well.
The tax break that donating to a foundation provides his father is probably over Andrew's head still, but so far, he's learned a lot: He's learned to keep track of assets and giving and that the foundation's IRS return is a public document. He's also learned, he said, "what giving can do."
Whitney's thought: "We're helping a whole bunch of people - and it doesn't take too much work on our part." (Paxton was doing yard work and unavailable for comment.)
A reporter took on a development role for a minute, and asked the foundation if they thought they shouldn't ask their father for a bigger contribution. "He's giving enough," Whitney said. How will they grow their foundation, then? "We'll be older and have our own jobs," she said, and can contribute to it. And their kids will run it.