10 Steps to Becoming a More Effective Philanthropist

Many donors look at their charitable efforts and wonder: Does the nonprofit I’m supporting really have an impact? What can I do to make my philanthropy more effective? Being an effective philanthropist doesn’t depend on the amount of time or money you give but rather upon how you approach your giving.

Here are 10 steps to achieving philanthropy that makes a difference:

  1. Determine why you’re giving and what outcomes you want to achieve. The reasons individuals give might include compassion, gratitude, tradition, religion, status, peer pressure, tax advantage, guilt, moral duty, ego, reputation, setting an example for or passing values to family members, creating a legacy, and more. You may seek to help others in need, find a cure or solution to a problem, advance a cause or preserve something you believe is valuable.
  1. Develop a strategy to achieve your goals. As with any investment, you must develop a strategy to achieve the desired return. Knowing why you’re giving and what outcomes you want to achieve are the first two building blocks of a philanthropic strategy. Seek input from the four legs of the philanthropic planning table: your tax, financial, legal and philanthropic advisers.
  1. Volunteer your time. Some people have more time than money. Others can contribute both. Volunteering for a charity or cause that is important to you can help you learn more about the work and achieve even greater impact.
  1. Involve your family. Whenever possible, involve your children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and grandparents in your philanthropic endeavors. Every generation has much to teach, and learn from, the other.
  1. Research before you give. With more than 1.4 million nonprofits in the U.S., 500,000 of which were created since 2000, it takes more than a glossy brochure or a snappy website to tell you which ones are achieving real outcomes and which are not. Determine which charities are worth your investment of time and money.
  1. Give boldly in your lifetime. People rarely donate so much money or time to charity in their lifetimes that they can no longer take care of themselves or their loved ones. Many have capacity to give far more than they do without sacrificing the quality of their lives or that of their descendents.
  1. Go deep, not wide. Focus your giving and volunteering on fewer charities where you can make a difference rather than spreading them thinly across many beneficiaries.
  1. Add charity to your estate plan. Your will is the last chance you have to pass on more than money to your heirs. Shape your legacy and help create a better world after you’re gone.
  1. Evaluate and change. Many people donate to the same charities year after year without learning whether any real progress has been made toward achieving their desired outcomes.
  1. Start now. Your community, nation and world need you today. The sooner you start, the sooner you will see results in your life and in the lives of others.



Nonprofit of the month

One in 10 Coloradans suffers from an addiction to alcohol or drugs, yet many remain untreated. With 13 locations throughout metro Denver, Arapahoe House is on the front lines of addiction treatment in Colorado. Annually serving more than 15,000 women and their children, pregnant women, teens, adults and families, Arapahoe House has been providing life-changing substance-abuse treatment and mental health services since 1975. arapahoehouse.org


Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic adviser helping families, businesses and foundations with their philanthropic initiatives. Reach him at bruce@deboskeygroup.com.