For many of ultra-wealthy inheritors worth $100 million or more, philanthropy is not an ancillary benefit of extreme wealth—it is a defining characteristic.

Research suggests they are not just interested in “doing good.” They are committed to making a significant positive impact on society and the world. With that in mind, only about half the ultra-wealthy inheritors we recently surveyed reported only “directional philanthropic goals.”

While they are making concerted efforts to be philanthropic, the study of 114 ultra-wealthy inheritors revealed that 65% believe they can do a better job. They recognize opportunities to be more strategic and more effective. Part of the problem may be that only about a quarter of these ultra-wealthy inheritors have clearly defined philanthropic goals. Roughly 20% of them are somewhat more in the dark and haven’t yet identified a cause that they are truly excited about supporting.

“The philanthropic interests and needs of an emerging generation of ultra-wealthy inheritors are shaping the way the family office sector does business. These clients are not looking to write a check for a tax credit. They are more frequently taking an active role and integrating charitable initiatives with entrepreneurial efforts,” said Angelo Robles, founder and CEO of the Family Office Association and author of "Effective Family Office." “Most importantly, they want to learn from the experiences of other exceptionally wealthy families driving demand for multifamily offices providing real opportunities for clients to share these resources.”

This overall strong interest in how other ultra-wealthy families are approaching philanthropy is characteristic of ultra-wealthy inheritors in general. Nearly three-quarters of them are interested in how other wealthy families and individuals are approaching philanthropy. By and large they are highly motivated to understand what their peers are doing across a spectrum of activities and endeavors. By sharing with their peers, ultra-wealthy inheritors are able to expeditiously move up the learning curve.

Paralleling this perspective, about seven out of 10 ultra-wealthy inheritors are highly interested in being introduced to likeminded individuals. Goals include accessing resources and expertise; learning about interesting opportunities and possibilities; and learning about best practices in various functional areas.

Those with such goals know just what they want to accomplish and are attuned to the ways they can meet these expectations. Very often this incorporates the structures they employ, such as foundations and trusts to achieve their charitable agendas.

Over time the charitable foundation became almost the philanthropic standard for the ultra-wealthy community. Many of these structures have had a profoundly positive impact on society over the span of generations. Despite the advantages, setting up a family foundation may not be the best option for some clients. How to best structure the charitable vehicle depends on factors ranging from operational costs to the level of personal involvement.

The interest and motivations of ultra-wealthy inheritors in philanthropy, coupled with many having only “directional philanthropic goals,” provides a variety of business opportunities for wealth managers. Those wealth managers that, for example, can facilitate philanthropic advisory services give them a competitive advantage. Also, the ability to adeptly align the charitable agendas of ultra-wealthy inheritors with wealth planning is likely to result in significant business for wealth managers.

Russ Alan Prince, president of R.A. Prince & Associates, is a consultant to family offices, the ultra-wealthy and select professionals.