I talk with people every day who are thinking about beginning or expanding their philanthropic giving. This includes both individuals who have a few extra dollars they would like to contribute to those who are looking to make a significant impact with their giving. Whether you have $5 or $5 million, many of the steps toward building a meaningful philanthropic plan are the same. What’s my take on how best to get started or infuse your current philanthropy with renewed vigor? Don’t wait. Get started on your plan for giving today. After all, your talent, time and treasure are needed by organizations all over the world NOW.
So where and how should you begin? Here are five things I recommend you consider as you embark on creating your philanthropic legacy:
1. Get to know new organizations. Many people devote endless hours researching which schools are right for their children, the perfect car to meet their needs or the right neighborhood to buy a home. As with these important decisions, I recommend you spend time and energy upfront learning about the organizations that best reflect your interests and passions. Whether you are interested in supporting youth in need, saving endangered animals, or improving the environment, philanthropy is more than giving money to any one group; it is about pursuing and achieving goals that are most important to you.
2. Take risks. The only way to grow is to diverge from your usual path. In the process, you will make mistakes, but it is all part of the learning process and will you make you better, more educated donor in the long run. As Case Foundation CEO Jean Case said, “To find solutions — and we desperately need new solutions to old problems — we’re going to have to take risks.” This thinking contributed to the Foundation’s Be Fearless campaign, designed to encourage individuals and foundations to take more risks and be bolder with their giving. An interesting paradox in the philanthropic sector is that the risk-taking nature that defines the entrepreneurial spirit and generates the wealth somehow seems to dissipate as the entrepreneur becomes a philanthropist. The same spirit of ingenuity that defines business can do well in philanthropy, but we tend to become quite conservative instead. That needs to change.
3. Find a community of givers. This includes everything from talking to friends and colleagues or finding a more structured giving community, preferably at your same stage of learning, to broaden your knowledge of your community as well as giving strategies and opportunities. Finding a group of like-minded people to help is especially important for those who are new to philanthropy and having to tackle challenging questions and complexities specific to their personal situations. A philanthropic advisor can help you connect with peers to make your giving more fun and rewarding.
4. Go deeper into the giving area that resonates most with you. Learn from experts in the field and become an informed donor. This will not only provide you with an understanding of what is happening in your particular area of interest but also why and how issues persist. For example, while animal lovers may be interested in supporting organizations that fight poaching elephants in Africa, they should also understand what lies behind this issue. Why does this problem persist despite millions of dollars spent trying to curb it and laws in place to punish those involved? Are there organizations they can support that address the underlying issues creating the challenge in the first place?
5. Stay engaged. Once you’ve pledged your financial support, look for opportunities to volunteer as a community member or on a board. Learn the intricacies of the non-profit sector and commit to being an active participant in the world around you. Why is this important? For one, learning about the issues that move you most from “the trenches” is crucial to understanding. The best way to assess the impact of your giving is to see it put to use first hand. And perhaps most importantly, in this age of online engagement, volunteering allows you to join a community and build strong relationships with likeminded people. According to Psychology Today, those who volunteer will also live longer and lead happier and healthier lives. The time to act is now; join the more than sixty million Americans who volunteer each year.
Embarking on any philanthropic journey requires a clear understanding of the motivations behind it. Many people already have some idea of what passions they possess, and they often change over time. At Phila Giving, we can help you explore the motivations behind your giving, what your charitable goals are, and how you want to make an impact. That said, I encourage you to starting planning today – with or without us - to make the world a better place tomorrow. Have questions or comments about my take on this issue? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Susan Wampler, “Case Foundation CEO encourages Risk Taking in Philanthropy,” May 19, 2015, https://news.usc.edu/81796/case-foundation-ceo-encourages-risk-taking-in-philanthropy/, (accessed February 15, 2018).
 Dawn C. Carr, “5 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer,” March 12, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-third-age/201403/5-reasons-why-you-should-volunteer, (accessed February 14, 2018).