January 15, 2016

Reflect on Your Giving Journey

This article is part of a toolkit on how to get more serious about your philanthropy. For an introduction, see Finding Your Philanthropy Compass. For other sections, see the bottom of the page.

Though it may seem premature, now is also a good time to begin thinking about how to incorporate learning and improvement into your philanthropy. Because there are few forces for accountability in philanthropy—no shareholders or voters to respond to—excellence in philanthropy must be self-imposed. Doing what it takes to really learn and improve over time requires a deep personal commitment. How can you start? First, recognize that you are embarking on a journey that will likely have a number of phases to it. For more on how to start small, learn, and adapt over time, see our guide “Your Philanthropic Journey.”

At each stage, you will want to identify what you’re expecting to happen as a result of your philanthropy. What exactly is your role in this change? With a stake in the ground, it’s easier to identify whether you hit the bar you set. If you did, great; if not, ask, why not? What can I do differently next time? For more on the process on continuous improvement in philanthropy, read "Am I Getting Better?"

Because there are few forces for accountability in philanthropy, excellence must be self-imposed.

Finally, though the decisions you made at the outset about structure, family, and legacy were important to ground the first stages of your new approach to philanthropy, they need not be set in stone. Reflect on the questions you asked when you first got started. Has this exercise changed the way you think about involving your family? Will your initial structure be sufficient to accomplish all of your goals? And are your initial assumptions about giving while living or giving in perpetuity still valid after going through this process? Consult your compass, and take a moment to decide whether there’s an opportunity to refine these initial decisions.


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