Three Steps to Guide Your Philanthropy


Philanthropist's Field Guide

Three Steps to Guide Your Philanthropy

Whether you are a budding or seasoned philanthropist, it makes sense to want your efforts to have the most significant impact possible. Not all philanthropy is created equal, however. In general, the quality and intentionality of a philanthropic endeavor play a part in determining its ultimate efficacy and influence.

illustration of earth with a blue overlay of connected lines and dots

If you’re ready to become more intentional with your philanthropy, take an hour to conduct the following three philanthropy guide exercises:

  1. Reflect. Self-reflection is an important first step toward more meaningful philanthropy. Asking yourself honest, probing questions around your motivation, engagement preferences, and desired outcomes can help you clarify your goals and priorities, and guide you toward the appropriate philanthropic vehicle(s). Start the self-reflection process by answering questions around:

    • Your philanthropic vision. Having a picture of what you would like to achieve through philanthropy helps to identify priorities and set clear goals.

      1. What do you want to achieve through philanthropy? What motivates this goal?

      2. Are there any specific causes you are drawn to? Why?

      3. What kind of immediate and long-term impact would you like to achieve?

    • The scale of your effort. Knowing how much time and effort you can commit helps you choose the suitable vehicles and activities for your philanthropy.

      1. What assets (time, treasure, talent, and ties) are you willing to deploy for your philanthropy?

      2. How much time do you want to devote to managing your philanthropy?

      3. How involved would you like to be in designing and managing philanthropic projects?

    • Your desired legacy. Keeping the end-game in mind can guide your decisions in engaging the next generation and help determine the appropriate philanthropic programming.

      1. How long do you want your philanthropy to continue? Years, decades, or even beyond your lifetime?

      2. Do you wish for your family members to engage with your philanthropy? If so, how?

      3. Are you interested in passing your philanthropic values to future generations of your family? If so, how would you like to educate them?

    • Other important considerations. Considering additional factors, such as financial expectations and privacy preferences, enables you to gain a comprehensive understanding of your philanthropic priorities.

      1. How much are you willing to spend to support your philanthropy

      2. Would you prefer to publicize your philanthropy? Or is privacy more important to you?

  2. Record. Once you’ve had time to organize your thoughts and identify your priorities, capture them in writing as soon as possible. The simple act of documenting your intentions can be a powerful motivator that can help you set actionable goals, maintain your focus, and ultimately achieve your philanthropic vision.

  3. Refine. Once you’ve set your initial goals and priorities, it may be necessary to refine your plan further. This process can be done on your own or with the help of a trusted peer or philanthropic advisor. Narrowing your focus can be challenging, especially if you are passionate about multiple causes. However, when it comes to philanthropy, multi-tasking is not usually the most effective approach. You are more likely to make a meaningful impact when you channel your energy and resources into one or two projects at a time. Later on, you can always apply your learnings to additional charitable endeavors.

How can you complete these exercises effectively?

These three philanthropy guide exercises can take approximately an hour to complete. It is best to go through the exercise by yourself first, and then invite your family members to join you if you envision involving them in your philanthropy. If you learn better with external direction or if you have complex family dynamics, it might be helpful to complete these exercises under the guidance of an outside facilitator. 

How often should you go through these exercises?

If you are new to philanthropy, it is a good idea to go through these three exercises every year. Doing so allows you to have the flexibility to adjust your goals and objectives according to your experience. If you are more established in philanthropy and do not anticipate drastic shifts in your goals and objectives, you can go through these philanthropy guide exercises every three years.

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Published September 23, 2020