January 2, 2013

Creating an Effective Philanthropy Strategy for 2013: Five Ideas

To help guide your effective philanthropy strategy, we’ve culled five practical ideas that thread throughout our discussions with Conversations with Remarkable Givers interviewees.

By: The Bridgespan Group
The New Year is naturally a time of reflection and goal setting, driven by the desire to promote human welfare and create positive change in the world. But nearly 90% of New Year’s resolutions fail, mostly because they are too vague or divorced from reality. To help guide your effective philanthropy strategy, we’ve culled five practical ideas that thread throughout our discussions with Conversations with Remarkable Givers interviewees. Think of these ideas as anti-resolutions—small adjustments that can result in big changes.

Philanthropy idea #1: Find fulfillment today.

Tackling complex issues such as education reform, environmental preservation, and global poverty requires taking a long-view—there are no easy fixes. So getting your philanthropy started early gives you more time to achieve results. It also increases the likelihood that you will enjoy seeing that impact in your own lifetime. Ted Turner, founder of the Turner Foundation, cautions against waiting. "You never know how long you’re going to be here." he says. "Life is short." [Watch Ted Turner.] Paul Tudor Jones, founder of venture philanthropy organization the Robin Hood Foundation, agrees. "It’s going to bring you more joy than anything you do in your whole life," he says. "The happiest [people] are always the ones that I meet through the not-for-profit work."

Paul Tudor Jones says, “Get in the game.”

Philanthropy idea #2: Begin with small steps.

Beginning philanthropy as soon as possible allows you to experiment, figure out what works, and get better over time. David Rubenstein, founder of the asset management company The Carlyle Group, says, "In the business world, the investment world, you don’t tend to make a gigantic bet without having made smaller bets in the area before," he says. "The same is true in philanthropy." [Watch David Rubenstein.] Such was the case for Jennifer Buffett, co-founder and President of the NoVo Foundation. "The beauty of the gift of starting small was that it just gets you out with a reasonable amount of money to start learning, and there’s no better way to learn about this than by doing it." [Watch Jennifer and Peter Buffett.] Creating effective philanthropy strategy takes time. Time for experimentation, time for pilot tests, time to take risks—and time to fail. In fact, many philanthropists find that the experiments that miss the mark are the ones that provide the most powerful lessons. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says that one such unsuccessful experiment prompted advancements "that we never would have embarked on if we hadn’t had that, quote, failure."

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey on getting better

Philanthropy idea #3: Give more than money.

The funds you give to a cause are crucial, but your talents, connections, and business expertise can also be highly effective. "Sweat equity is far more important than the capital if you really want to bring about dramatic change," says Pitt Hyde, President of the J.R. Hyde Senior Family Foundation and Director of the J.R. Hyde III Family Foundation. He says this was particularly true "when we made the decision to try to positively influence public policy; to do that, you have to have a sustained effort put over a number of years, you have to get to know every bureaucrat, every politician." Clearly, such goals require much work on the front lines. Giving voice to a cause, that is, using your influence, is also an important resource. "I enjoy being a private citizen and having my privacy," says Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "But ultimately, when I started to look at the role of philanthropy and what it can do to effect change, I realized it wasn’t enough to just visit women in the developing world or to give them a tool like the vaccine; I had to use my voice on their behalf." [Watch Melinda Gates.]

Pitt Hyde says "sweat equity" is worth more than capital.

Philanthropy idea #4: Find and learn with collaboration partners.

Collaboration—with other philanthropists, government and nonprofits—can enable bigger investments, create cost efficiencies through shared strategy development and due diligence, enable coordinated action on problems that cross sectors, and provide access to networks and specialized skills that any individual donor may not have on staff. "Even the largest philanthropists today are too small in relationship to the really serious problems we have in the world,” says Nancy Roob, President and Chairman of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. She recommends finding other philanthropists who are giving in the areas you care about to begin your learning. [Watch Nancy Roob.] Kelvin Taketa, CEO for the Hawai'i Community Foundation, believes such collaboration is on the rise. "We're going to see more and more in this century that the interconnectedness of all [philanthropic] work is really where the secret sauce is." He offers illustration of this point. "You have an interest around culture and arts, you better have an understanding about how we build a work force and an affordable living space for young people," he says. "You can't separate these things."

Kelvin Taketa says, “Money isn’t enough—collaboration is essential.”

Philanthropy idea #5: Be strategic with your grantmaking.

Many philanthropists say that when it comes to grantmaking, you should be thinking "fewer, bigger, longer." Steve Hilton, President and CEO of the Hilton Foundation, allocates the majority of the foundation's resources to getting results through large long-term grants. He says that such grantmaking recognizes that "the issues that we deal with, they’re not going to go away in a year or two years and so you really need to have a long time horizon." [Watch Steve Hilton.] KIPP Foundation Chairman John Fisher agrees. "I think what has been rewarding and successful for us has been to develop a strong focus in what we do," he says. 

John Fisher on doing a few things really well

Creating social change is no easy task, but there are specific, practical steps you can take to improve your philanthropy and create a positive impact on the world. Happy 2013!

This post is part of our series focusing on Conversations with Remarkable Givers, our collection of one to three-minute video clips drawn from over 50 original and private interviews with philanthropists and foundation leaders. Our initial launch features more than 400 videos, which will evolve into a library of over 1,000 videos, as we take a deeper look at each donor over the coming months.

Related Material

Creative Commons License logo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.