For emerging philanthropists, I like to recommend a layering approach to defining and strengthening philanthropy:
Establish a Connection – Philanthropy tends to be rooted in a deep emotional or philosophical connection to an issue or cause. Maybe that connection has already been established through lived personal experiences or those of family and friends. Connections, however, can also be built through volunteerism or work. Even though I was working in HIV/AIDS early in my career, it wasn’t until I was forced to feel it, see it, and touch it during a day spent in an orphanage for HIV positive children that I developed a true emotional investment in the work and a deep motivation to advance progress.
Create a Mission Statement – Even a small dollar donor can be guided and focused by creating a mission statement. The mission statement helps define and scale “connection.” What is it you care about? This gives you a chance to name it. On what scale do you care? Local, state, national, international? Over what time period? The mission statement is useful for many reasons. One of the most important reasons is that it allows you to say “no” to giving that is not in keeping with your mission and helps target resources more narrowly to that about which you truly care.
Consider Impact – This is the “so what” question. To what end do I hope my giving will result? So what difference are we making? It doesn’t take a large endowment to create impact. Focused giving, on almost any scale, can have measurable results. While a mission statement is a filter for giving, impact analysis can help sift through the concepts that remain. This is the point to ask which organizations or strategies will allow me to make the changes I would like to see? Are there strategic opportunities to leverage my resources to enhance results?
Learn and advance – As the technology sector aspires with its “accelerators” and “incubators” to facilitate transformative and/or disruptive change to society and looks at failure as an opportunity to evolve and grow, so should philanthropy. Strategic philanthropy is not always going to hit its mark. Some of the largest and best-known philanthropists have publicly struggled at times and will admit that even their failures allowed them to learn and evolve. They call it “failing forward.” Seeking out mentors, advisors, giving circles, funders groups, and other collaborations are a great way to build bridges, learn and share from experiences, and potentially create new avenues for strategic philanthropy.