Philanthropists are a force. Few things are as powerful as a group of informed individuals who feel the responsibility and willingness to act for the betterment of society. But your philanthropy is also deeply personal. The satisfaction that comes from helping others fuels us to do more, think about what we can achieve in our lifetime, and take stock of what we are handing over to future generations. However, you don’t stumble onto such a trajectory by chance. To make the change you want to see in the world it takes intention, planning, and aligning your head with your heart. It takes developing your own philanthropic strategy. And if the idea of associating charity with strategy sounds unfamiliar, consider how you’ve likely approached other goals regarding your career, family, finances with careful analysis and thoughtful action. Why would your charitable work be any different?
Whether you are a seasoned or burgeoning philanthropist it’s never too late (or early), to get strategic about your giving. Taking the driver’s seat of your philanthropy can help you champion the causes you care about and create a purposeful lasting impact. Here are some conversation starters and insights that have helped hundreds of philanthropists we have worked with gain perspective to transform their charitable vision:
Understanding your values, and how to ‘give’ by them
Who do you want to be as a philanthropist and is your philanthropy truly aligned with that vision? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. When it comes to charity, we are largely taught to look outwards – donate to the best known institutions, continue family traditions, support what’s on the news. And while these are important factors, nearly 40 years of working with philanthropists has shown us that the journey to effective and rewarding lifelong philanthropy begins by looking inwards. It involves reflecting on how the values you were brought up with still influence you, and deciding what will you will carry with you, and what you choose to leave behind. Ask yourself, what’s important to you? What is the change you want to be part of? When you understand your values they become the building blocks of your philanthropy and your vision starts taking shape.
Discovering great work happening under-the-radar
There are over 80,000 charities in Canada and yet 1% receive 66% of all donations. Choosing may feel overwhelming to donors and many default to supporting the biggest names. And while these organizations may certainly have a place in your charitable portfolio, social change is a balancing act with lesser-known and grassroots organizations playing a vital role in trying out new approaches and delivering on-the-ground programs and services to their communities.
When you have a giving strategy based on your values, you are better equipped to recognize opportunities to fund the innovative and critical work being done by under-the-radar non-profits. By staying open to learning about different options you might just discover an organization working on a specific idea, issue, or solution that speaks to your charitable goals – and your support could be catalyst to building momentum and progress.
Balancing long-term and short-term
Philanthropy is not just about where to spend your funds, it’s also about how. If you don’t have a strategy you likely haven’t thought about this, but if you are making donations annually – and potentially increasing the amount you give each year – you are making a considerable social investment over your lifetime. What will the value of your contributions be in 10, 24, or 40 years? It’s wise to think about how you want to distribute your funds in the short and long term to meet your philanthropic goals. A diversified strategy can give you the satisfaction of making grants to the work that is happening now on timely issues, while ensuring the longevity of your philanthropic reach and impact. There are smart options to help you get the best of both worlds, talk to your wealth or fund advisor to see what’s best for you.
Moving from transactional to transformative
Let’s take it back to the first question – who do you want to be as a philanthropist? What is it all for? If you’re reading this article you’re probably looking for something more than writing an annual cheque, and when your philanthropy is aligned with what drives you it unlocks opportunities to a richer experience. Learning, volunteering, serving on boards, advocating, being part of a community of people with shared values – this is what informed philanthropy is all about. It’s moving from the sidelines to getting involved – head, heart, and hands.
At the end of the day, your philanthropy is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour. And while there are soul searching conversations to ponder as you get started, we hope you’ll discover that as step into your philanthropic identity, your leadership will become one of your most valuable assets to social change.