Are you ready to embark on a philanthropic journey?
Are you feeling like you want to live your life on purpose,
but you don’t quite know how to get started?
Dipping your toe in the philanthropic waters is like starting a journey without a compass. Surely, it’s exciting to explore what issues and problems matter to you. Learning from the experts about the issues that you’ve identified is a smart starting point as you experiment with some modest grant making with different organizations. Quickly, you discover that the needs in your community and in the world are so vast, and your time and resources are finite. More critical thinking, exploration, and discernment become a must. Without a compass, the waters can become murky and a more concrete learning agenda and plan of action become essential.
According to H Peter Karoff, founder of The Philanthropic Initiative, there are six stages of a philanthropic learning curve. I have listed them and added a snapshot of my perspectives.
1. Become a Donor. In this stage, giving becomes important for a number of reasons. You may be thinking about your legacy, your position in the community, or your desire to go from success to significance. You respond to many, many requests. You likely give in small amounts to large numbers of organizations. This novice approach might be called checkbook, or even peanut butter philanthropy, as you spread your dollars across a wide variety of causes and organizations.
2. Get Organized. You may feel like you don’t have any control over the process. You have a pile of requests on your desk and you are being reactive instead of proactive. In this stage, you want to take a step back and begin to determine your priorities and approach.
3. Become A Learner. You realize that philanthropy is hard and you want to engage in learning about the issues that are important to you. You want to know which are the most innovative and impactful nonprofits on the cutting-edge of the work, and by extension, the organizational leaders who are devoting their time, energy and resources to addressing important issues. You begin to distinguish philanthropy from charity.
4. Results Oriented. You want to begin to make a difference and determine if and how your investments can make an impact. You become more discerning as you become more educated about issues, approaches to addressing those issues, and the organizations and people who are providing, championing and piloting solutions to problems. You search for the leading people and organizations which are making a measurable difference.
5. Leveraging Your Philanthropy. You gain the clarity to either develop or fund programs that meet specific objectives. You consider collaborating with other funders and learn from others who have invested in a variety of solutions before you.
6. Alignment. The alignment of community impact and personal fulfillment happens when you have clarity of your vision, passion, and interests, and these dimensions come together to achieve your goals. This coherence is when philanthropy is exciting and satisfying. Ultimately, philanthropy works when a critical social need has been identified and the gift has fulfilled that need. That is alignment. That is at the heart of philanthropy.
Karoff goes on to list the following questions as the primary test of philanthropy
Was our purpose noble,
were we true to it, and
did we in all instances, deeply listen to the community of interest we presume to serve?