The Tenets of Impactful Giving

Hand turns dice and changes the word reactive to proactive.

Using Values & Passion as Your Giving Guide Stars

Wherever it takes you, the journey towards achieving maximum philanthropic impact starts with your convictions and beliefs about how you might change the world for the better. Values are your guide stars. They guide the choices you make, and the most satisfying and effective philanthropy is built on those deeply held values. In Foundation Source’s new blog series, The Tenets of Impactful Giving, we’ll be taking a look at best practices, insights, and goals that can help you truly make a difference with your philanthropy.

Step 1: Take Inventory

Completing a values inventory is often a helpful first step in creating your philanthropic roadmap to help you determine how to make an impact with your charitable giving. What are your bedrock values? What is most important to you and what are you truly passionate about? Identifying your unique set of values can be a revealing and rewarding process in itself. It also becomes a kind of philanthropic compass that can help guide your giving choices.

Step 2: Take Advantage of Family Time

Whether you’re around the dinner table, on vacation, or sharing a car ride together, there are many opportunities to weave discussions of values into your family conversations. These enlightening and meaningful discussions can reveal what your family members value most. Philanthropy can be a great unifier, particularly for families who learn to give together. Shared values often bind families together for generations and there are many ways a matriarch or a patriarch begins to translate those values into a family-wide legacy.

Step 3: Connect with Your Children

Family values are more caught than taught, so let your children witness your giving. You want to make giving transparent—don’t assume they aren’t interested in your philanthropy. People develop their values through observation, experimentation, experience, and feedback. Children watch their parents closely and learn their values by observing their behaviors.

Looking for more giving inspiration? Check out Foundation Source’s resource The Secret to Joyful Giving – Foundation Source.

Being Proactive vs. Reactive

As you continue to seek ways to make a difference, it helps to understand the distinction between charity and philanthropy (sometimes described as reactive) and philanthropy (an approach to giving that typically incorporates a specific strategy, and is sometimes described as proactive).

Reactive Giving

Examples of reactive giving are donating to support an unforeseen natural disaster or spontaneous visceral gifts. However, when thinking about your overall giving plan, consider using an 80/20 rule as your guide. This means that 80% should be supporting a proactive, strategic approach to your philanthropy—one that aligns with your mission and family values. The other 20% can be reserved for the more immediate needs where you know there’s a need in your community or the world.

Proactive Giving

Being proactive is a key tenet of effective strategic philanthropy. It helps you stay focused and increases the likelihood that you will accomplish your philanthropic goals. The first thing you need to do is define your approach. To get there, you need to ask yourself some grounding questions:

  • What proactive steps do you need to reach your philanthropic goals?
  • What is your theory of change?
  • How does the strategy you are proposing align with your values?
  • What do you think it will take to bring about the change you envision?
  • How and to what extent do you want to be involved in your philanthropy?
  • Do you want to contribute funds, or do you want to contribute time and talent also?
  • Do you prefer to focus on individual lives, or would you like to effect change at the organizational level, influencing societal systems or public policy?
  • Are you more comfortable investing in nonprofits with a proven track record or are you willing to experiment with new organizations and approaches?

The outcome of this soul searching will be a proactive, defined approach. This defined approach—joining values and philanthropic goals—is often codified in a mission statement, and further clarified in grant guidelines, if the foundation has formal application processes. But whether or not you formalize your objectives, knowing exactly what you hope to accomplish will put you on the road to more effective and strategic philanthropy.

Don’t Gloss Over Goals and Outcomes

Ask Yourself the “Two Ws”

It helps to start by asking yourself two questions: What? and Where? By considering what, you are asking about your vision for success. In other words, what will your headline be 5, 10 or even 20 years down the road? By considering where, you are asking what you want to focus on and pinpointing your interests. Do you want to focus on your local community or on a wider geographic area? Where is the greatest need and where do you think you will have the greatest impact?

Putting the Ws Into Practice

A complex issue area like education exemplifies the many ways you can apply the two Ws. For instance, you could help students directly by providing scholarships for high-achieving high schoolers who lack financial resources. Or you could help an organization directly like a specific school offering them more brick-and-mortar support. You could also focus on a specific issue area or policy within the realm of education, for instance, testing, curriculum or system and public policy—an example of that could be ensuring all children are ready for school by supplying funds to support the development of a preschool for your community or state. The Morgridge Family Foundation recently gave $10 million to MindSpark, a nonprofit that supports students and educators. This unrestricted gift coincides with Mindspark’s five-year anniversary and will support educator retention programs. It will be used to fuel strategic innovations in learning and development models that uplift both students and educators.

Next Steps

As you can see, its critical to clearly define goals and ideal outcomes, which goes far beyond just identifying an issue area. Getting the what and the where questions right are crucial to establishing a plan that maximizes the impact of our gifts.
Here are some other questions to help you choose where and how to lend your support:

  • Are the issue areas and organizations I’m focused on helping me achieve my philanthropic goals?
  • What other organizations or individuals are working on this problem?
  • What efforts have succeeded or failed? What can I learn from those?
  • What will it take to move the needle?

Bottom line, it is essential to translate your values into specific goals and outcome-directed focus areas, and to map out how to get from there to where you want to end up.

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Gillian Howell is the head of client advisory solutions at Foundation Source.

The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.