Philanthropic organizations have long been a crucial partner in responding to the needs of the most vulnerable segments of our society. Philanthropy seeks to assess and respond in real-time to areas which demand more attention, whether it is the environment, human rights or even up holding democratic values. Working alongside governments and the private sector, these organizations provide resources for public good – harnessing the capabilities, scale, and benefits of philanthropic investment to effect positive change.
We are in many respects entering a golden age of philanthropy. Inspired by peers, colleagues, friends and family, new philanthropists are emerging in records numbers. They have different interests and passions, but they all want to make an impact with their unique gifts. This is an open letter to emerging philanthropists about the journey to impact – to long-term sustainable change – a journey beginning with the heart, moving to the head and ultimately, achieving results on the ground.
There are so many challenges in our world: poverty, disease, war, poor education, human trafficking, child abuse, discrimination, hunger, homelessness, mental illness – the list goes on. As a philanthropist, when you begin the journey of impact, first look into your heart and find the issues that are most meaningful to you. What problems are you most passionate about solving? There is no one right beginning, no one root cause for humanity’s ills.
When you focus on what matters most to you, those issues for which you have deep commitment and conviction, a cause becomes a part of who you are. It is something you take on, with desire to make a difference. You are more likely to persevere and to achieve results with your donation or volunteer experience. New philanthropists have the power to bring a fresh perspective and energy needed to address intricate problems. To do so, one must seek to educate themselves extensively, so as to fully understand an issue. What is known about it? Who is most affected? What are others doing? Is there evidence about what has succeeded in the past and what has failed and why? What are the opportunities to make a difference and what is the best leverage for doing so? Intention is one thing, but make a concrete difference requires devout investment.
As you develop an approach to funding and/or volunteering with an organization, consider the role that you are preparing to play. Do you want to be an outspoken leader or play more of a quiet, behind-the-scenes role? Do you want to be an advocate, funding a certain point of view on a set of issues, or maintain a neutral posture? Do you want to be a generator of knowledge that others can use to make better decisions? These roles are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But, in your journey to impact, be mindful that it will require adaptation. Realistically, you will need to make adjustments and it can be at times, a difficult pill to swallow.
Pay attention to other factors of an organization’s performance: transparency, governance, leadership and results. For years, many organizations have been working to increase the depth and breadth of the information provided to donors and/or volunteers in these areas. In doing so, they provide a detailed picture of their charities’ performance.
Ask communities for insight, so as to understand the importance of these organizational programs and services. Are they providing integral support, which can be seen in the people they seek to support? Do you volunteer or donate to an organization without understanding the platform and how they serve people, in exchange for a quick win in the image department?
A donation is more than the dollars, think of what you choose to support and the difference it can make. As you decide, realize their influence, with full knowledge that they will serve their community and its people with 110% of its ability. Otherwise, who are you really helping? Take some time. Listen to the communities you wish to stand for, and you will make good decisions.
In sum… My worry is that you and I (having never met or spoken!) both turn around years later and reflect upon how the time and money we donated was used or spent rather poorly. In the end, the journey to impact is indeed a journey. It is most fruitful when pursued with a warm heart and informed head.
Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving creates love. –Lao Tzu–