Many donors look at their charitable efforts and wonder: Are the nonprofit organizations I'm supporting really having an impact? What can I do to make my philanthropy more effective? How can I pass my values on to my children, grandchildren and future generations? How can I find more joy and meaning in my philanthropy? 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 becoming a more effective philanthropist:
1. Determine why you're giving and what outcomes you want to achieve. The reasons individuals and families give to charitable causes might include compassion, gratitude, tradition, religion, status, peer pressure, tax advantage, guilt, moral duty, ego, reputation, setting an example for or passing values on to family members, creating a legacy and more. You may also seek to help others in need; find a cure or solution to a problem; repay an advantage or opportunity that was provided to you; advance a cause; or preserve some value, principle or thing you believe is important.
2. Develop a strategy to achieve your goals. As with any investment, you must develop a strategy in order to achieve the desired return. First determine why you're giving money to others, and then ascertain what outcomes you want to achieve. These are the first two building blocks of any philanthropic strategy. While determining your strategy, seek input from the four legs of the philanthropic planning table: your tax, financial, legal and philanthropic advisers. Each adviser brings expertise to the table to help you make better, more informed and more strategic philanthropic plans.
3. Volunteer your time. Some people have more time than money while others can contribute both. Volunteering for a charity or cause that is important to you can bring you great satisfaction, help you learn more about the work being done, and it brings skills and energy that achieve even greater impact. Helping a nonprofit organization do its work brings tangible and intangible benefits to both the volunteer and the recipient.
4. Involve your family. Whenever possible, involve your children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and grandparents in your philanthropic endeavors. Every generation has much to teach and to learn from the other. Just as it is incumbent upon older generations to teach those that follow about philanthropy, younger people have much to share with their elders. Working together as a family can help you weave a common thread of shared values, collaboration and purpose that extends beyond philanthropic initiatives and could last for generations.
5. Research before you give. With more than 1.4 million nonprofits in the United States—500,000 of which were created since 2000—it takes more than a glossy brochure or snappy website to tell you which ones are achieving real outcomes and which are not. Research and analysis helps you determine which charities are worth your investment of time and money.
6. Give boldly during 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 the capacity to give far more than they do without sacrificing the quality of their lives or that of their descendents. Working with a financial adviser, you can determine your philanthropic capacity to give. Not only does giving during your lifetime create more opportunities for satisfaction and greater impact, it enables you to change your strategy if desired outcomes are not being achieved.
7. Add charity to your estate plan. That said, your last will and testament is the last chance you will have to pass on more than money to your heirs and to make a difference that lives on in the world. Your will can be a reflection of your values and priorities and can help inform your descendents about what is and was important to you during your lifetime. Shape your philanthropic legacy thoughtfully and strategically—it will help create a better world after you're gone, but you’ll also help those who will follow you understand you and what you cared about.
8. Go deep, not wide. Focus your giving and volunteering on fewer charities where you can make a real difference rather than spreading them thinly across many beneficiaries. Going deep enables you to learn more about the causes you support, develop a more productive partnership with those organizations, and achieve more significant outcomes.
9. 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 goals. When your donation is made, ensure that the nonprofit beneficiary will be responsible for providing you the information you’ll need to evaluate the real impacts of your philanthropic initiatives. Revise your strategy if they are less than optimal.
10. Start now! Your community, nation and world need you today. Philanthropy is like love— the sooner you make philanthropy a cornerstone of your life, the sooner you will deepen the joy, meaning and purpose of living.
Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic adviser helping families, businesses and foundations with their philanthropic initiatives. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.