Family Philanthropy Playbook for Community Foundations

Unit 3: Donor-Centered Measures

How do your donors and prospects measure progress and success in their giving? Will their spouses, partners, and relatives use the measures?

READ: Donor and Fund Advisor Outcomes

Foundations regularly counsel nonprofits not to mistake participation numbers for outcomes. Program attendance doesn’t equal changed perceptions, knowledge, or behaviors.

Community foundations can make the same mistake, equating donor participation or engagement numbers to impact on donors and fund advisors. For example, in TPI’s Measures of Success report (see Unit 1), some community foundations listed satisfaction with the foundation and use of foundation services as measures benefiting the donors rather than the foundation.

Donor-centered measures reflect the journeys toward philanthropic goals defined by the founding donor(s) and their family members. Increasingly, their definition of “philanthropy” is going beyond gifts and grants to include volunteering, impact investing, advocacy for causes, and even starting social ventures.

Each person will define his or her goals differently, and often haven’t fully thought them through. In research reports, wealthy donors and families most commonly set one or more of these goals:

  • Satisfaction with, and/or confidence in, their philanthropy – alignment with values and purpose, perception of nonprofits’ wise use of gifts, actual outcomes achieved
  • Expertise in philanthropy – choosing causes, choosing effective organizations, understanding of community needs and solutions
  • Successful family participation in family philanthropy – often defined by overcoming obstacles such as values differences, geographic dispersion, or conflict in communications
  • Successful preparation of heirs and successors – financial literacy, wealth management acumen, governance and leadership skills, business skills, philanthropic skills.
“Measuring success with families is hard. How we define success and a family defines success could be very different. I suggest discussing how to involve a family (if appropriate) in developing benchmarks to use in working with them; i.e. where do they want to go, what do they want to be, etc.”

– TPI Excellence in Family Philanthropy Initiative participant

BORROW AND ADAPT: Ladder of Donor Measures [members only]

This graphic displays one common journey – over years and decades – of a philanthropic family. No donor’s or family’s journey will be linear, definitions of success will change over time, and family members may want to stop at different rungs on the ladder. Nonetheless, the graphic can be a useful starting point for developing your foundation’s assessment of progress by family members.

Read: The Power to Produce Wonders: The Value of Family in Philanthropy

What does “family” add to the practice of philanthropy? NCFP hosted 15 regional and national discussions to uncover a clear set of benefits to family members, some of which may be goals for your generous donors.

Read: Philanthropy’s Role in Developing Responsible Adults

This NCFP Passages edition discusses four areas of philanthropic engagement which can contribute to inhibiting entitlement behaviors in children of wealth.