September 8, 2011

Anchors Can Help Your Philanthropy Take Flight


By: The Bridgespan Group

Is it better to fund clean-air projects, after-school tutoring, or cancer research? There is no right answer—only you can answer that question for yourself. Philanthropy is highly individual; philanthropists can and do support a dizzying array of nonprofits and causes. Your personal passions and what you believe is worth doing will drive your philanthropic priorities.

In my work advising donors, I’ve found that encouraging them to “anchor” their giving in a broad category can provide guidance in their philanthropy giving.

What do I mean by “anchor”? It sounds simple, but pinpointing which one or combination of “the five Ps”—the people, places, problems, pathways, or philosophies—you really care about will help you narrow your choices and describe (in broad strokes) the impact you’d like your philanthropy to have.

If the concept of people is your giving anchor, you may be drawn to help a specific group of people address circumstances that are defining (and probably limiting) their lives. A particular problem, such as childhood obesity, may compel your attention. Place—maintaining or restoring the health and vitality of a particular geography—is another possible focus area. Or it may be that a strongly held belief in the importance of a particular approach—or pathway—is what you care about most, for example, a belief in the value of a mentor to guide and support youth. Philosophy—your beliefs around how the world works, or should work—is another compelling anchor for philanthropists, and maybe this is yours too.

There is no wrong answer about what anchors you. But with so many worthy causes crying out for attention and funding, identifying your anchor or combination of anchors can be tough to figure out. To help uncover what truly anchors your giving, you may want to consider questions about what motivates you to give, what beliefs you hold, and other important considerations. I’ve found the below questions useful for donors looking to focus their philanthropy, or give an older strategy a fresh boost.

  • What motivates you to give? (Spiritual beliefs, a desire to help others as you were once helped, something else?)
  • What values have your family and other role models passed on to you?
  • What past experiences have shaped your beliefs or your thinking?
  • What interests or concerns you—for instance, which stories do you read first in the newspaper or online?
  • Where have you spent your time and money in the past? Why?

What questions have you asked to help find your philanthropic passions?

See more on how to clarify your aspirations.

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