As I continue to have the privilege of walking alongside families in their journeys of generosity, I find myself asking this question: why do I think “strategic philanthropy” is so important?
Is it because I like to be intentional about things in life and so I want to do my giving that way too?
Is it because I think giving with a vision or passion is better than giving just because it’s good for the cause and for me?
Is it because I believe we only make a difference if we give strategically?
All of these possibilities are partially true, but a deeper analysis of the costs and benefits of strategic philanthropy are in order. To understand what I mean, we’ll pose strategic philanthropy against what I call “random charity” and see how things shake out.
Deciding/knowing what you’re passionate about and investing in organizations that are doing good work in those areas.
Giving to anything that passes by, whether or not you care about the cause or know if the organization is effective.
Giving $5,000 a year to three organizations that fight breast cancer because your mother fought that battle and lost, and you don’t want your daughter’s generation to face death as the only option if they get breast cancer.
Sending $10 to every appeal you get in the mail – from the Salvation Army to the World Wildlife Fund to the local symphony.
3. Impact on the cause
A cause you care about gets furthered because you invested more heavily into it vs. spreading your funds around, and you’re more likely to see a return on your charitable investment.
Many causes get a nice little donation (which might help them take another, more serious donor out to coffee), and you’ll probably never know what your funds were used for.
4. Impact on you
You get more joy because you know what your funds are being used for, and have invested in something that makes your heart beat.
You get some joy knowing that you got to support a lot of organizations, even if it was just a little bit.
5. Impact on your giving
When we have issues we care about and want to make a difference in, we often give more because we are more deeply engaged/interested.
When we don’t have specific causes we care about or support, we often give less because we know they won’t really miss our $10 anyway.
6. Impact on the charitable sector
If all givers were strategic, the charitable sector would undergo a sorting out, and the organizations doing the best work would likely rise to the top and keep making a difference because donors are investing in good work.
If all givers gave randomly, any organization that put together a pretty mailer would get funds, whether they do good work or not.
7. Impact on the world
If breast cancer research pays off because you and a bunch of other folks invested strategically, your daughter (and all of the young women in world who come after her) may know how to avoid getting it or if she does, she won’t have to fear dying like her grandma did.
If the art museum gets $10 and the boys & girls club gets $10, and the xyz charity gets $10, the world might move a bit closer to bettering people’s lives who are served by those organizations.
As you can see, my bias is toward strategic philanthropy, but both paths can produce beautiful generosity that changes the world in some way.
One last note: there is the possibility of being too strategic, which can result in not being able to give to a more immediate need because it falls outside your focus areas (i.e., a natural disaster in a part of the world that you don’t focus on). However, that can be easily solved with some great tools that allow you to move the needle on what you care about all the while maintaining flexibility to give as needs move your heart when they arise. (We’ll have more on those tools in a later post—keep following!)
If these thoughts resonate with you and you’d like to get more strategic about your personal or corporate giving, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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