Stanford PACS Guide to Effective Philanthropy

About this collection: The aim for this book is to simplify the components of effective philanthropy. The Guide has two major parts. Part One lays out a series of personal considerations that will help shape your philanthropic strategy. Part Two delves into the tactical practices of philanthropy to help you deploy your resources most effectively.

Curated By: Stanford PACS

This Guide by Stanford PACS is written for donors who are interested in significant and sustained giving. It was born out of their experience at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society in helping donors improve their philanthropic effectiveness. Although much of the Guide is relevant to philanthropy across the globe, it is focused on donors making gifts to US-registered charities.

Part One: Developing your Plan for Giving


A resource guide for emerging, high-capacity philanthropists through their funding journey.

Finding Your Focus

To develop focus areas and set a budget, consider your motivations, values, risk tolerance, and interests. The first step toward effective philanthropy is to decide on your particular interests, or focus areas. This chapter helps you consider the following questions: Why should I have philanthropic focus areas? What motivates me…

Involving Family

Consider ways to involve your family in your philanthropy. Philanthropy presents an opportunity to involve your family in one of life’s most fulfilling activities: giving back to society. This chapter will help you find answers to questions like these: Why should I engage my family? What are some ways to…

Learning About Philanthropy With and From Others

Explore the ecosystem of experts who can support you in your journey. Philanthropy can be very personal, and the process of giving can sometimes feel like a solitary pursuit. Though you will inevitably work with many others outside your family—including nonprofits, their beneficiaries, and co-funders—as you develop your philanthropic practice,…

Giving Vehicles: The Basics

Is direct giving, a donor advised fund, a private foundation, an LLC, or some combination the best set-up for you to achieve your goals? Many people are catapulted into philanthropy because of a wealth event. Often, their first question is what giving vehicle to use to deploy their philanthropic dollars.…

Understanding Problems, Their Causes, and Approaches to Solutions

Understand the problem you’re trying to solve through your giving, so you can support the right sorts of nonprofits. Having articulated a focus area, you may be tempted to jump right into finding organizations that operate in that space. However, nonprofit organizations may deploy very different approaches to solving social…

Part Two: Implementing Your Plan

Finding Effective Organizations

To find effective nonprofits, conduct a landscape analysis, research grantees of credible foundations, ask knowledgeable people, or conduct online research. Even after you have decided on your philanthropic goals, you may find it difficult to choose which organizations to fund when a number of them seem to be doing similar…

Due Diligence: Vetting and Evaluating Organizations

Everything you need to think about as you narrow down your list of organizations to support. Once you have compiled a list of potential organizations to fund, you’ll want to conduct a due diligence process to vet them for effectiveness. Due diligence involves assessing a nonprofit’s goals, strategies, and capabilities…

Engaging Organizations and Developing Relationships With Their Leadership

Best practices when it comes to interacting with potential and actual grantees including volunteering and board service. In many instances, you can conduct adequate due diligence on a nonprofit without ever communicating with the organization’s staff—using information from its website and from third parties. Also, in many cases—especially but not…

Making Gifts

Think through the types of funding you might offer, gift size, duration, and exiting a relationship. Once you have developed confidence in an organization in your focus area, you will want to consider how best to support it. This chapter gives an overview of the basics of making gifts and…

Funding with Others: Collaboration and Pooled Funding

Learn about the many ways to fund with others: learning with others, funding a trusted staffed foundation, coordinating funding with other donors, pooling funds with other donors, and participatory grantmaking. The growing practices of collaborative and pooled funding allow you to increase the impact and scale of your giving. This…

Socially Motivated Investing

Understand the difference between value-aligned investing and investing for impact. This chapter considers two related but nonetheless different purposes that socially motivated investments may serve. The first is to align your investments with your social and environmental values regardless of whether your investment decisions affect the investee companies’ behaviors. The…


In the introduction, we referred to philanthropy as a journey—a journey with both anticipated and unexpected experiences and great opportunities for learning. You will almost surely explore new focus areas and find new opportunities within existing ones. More fundamentally, you will develop new skills, more confidence, and greater courage as…