The journey to becoming more strategic with your philanthropy requires choices, and one of the most important ones you can make is deciding which philanthropic cause or causes you'll focus on. Distilling your philanthropic interests into these areas of focus, upon which you might build individual giving strategies, can help you set clear boundaries so that your giving can get better results.
That’s not to say that all of your philanthropy should necessarily be "strategic." You may choose to continue supporting organizations you or other family members have donated to for a long time, and you may also wish to put a certain amount of money “in reserve” for the explicit purpose of responding to personal requests that fall outside of your core values and beliefs, say to give back to institutions that have meant something to you or to allow other family members to contribute to their own passions.
With your remaining giving resources, you can decide whether you’d like to focus on one cause or fund several. As an illustration, consider these two examples:
The single strategic initiative. In 2006, Peter Buffett’s father, Warren, gave his son and daughter-in-law, Jennifer Buffett, $1 billion to do as they wished philanthropically. Though the Buffetts had been involved in philanthropy for some time—mostly giving to small social service and arts causes in Milwaukee—with the expansion in their resources, they felt compelled to take a more global view, and set out on a fact-finding mission through Asia and Africa. Throughout their travels, they were particularly troubled by the power imbalance between men and women. The firsthand observation of these power imbalances led them to focus their giving on women and girls and preventing violence. As they learned more about the issues women and girls face, they developed an interest in social and emotional learning as a pathway to address such challenges. For the Buffetts, these three interests converged around a single strategic initiative, which led them to begin directing a significant portion of their newfound resources to organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and Women for Women International, which had long histories of working on improving the status of women and girls. (For more on the Buffett's philanthropy, see "The Buffetts Find 'The Sound.'")
Multiple strategic initiatives. Other philanthropists, like Ray Chambers, have chosen to pursue multiple strategies. Chambers’ interests in promoting world peace and supporting his hometown, Newark, New Jersey, have led him to pursue two independent strategic initiatives. One is to eradicate malaria globally by employing both his money and his business experience; another seeks to revitalize the social and economic infrastructure of Newark primarily by expanding youth mentoring efforts.
In a similar fashion, you’ll need to consider whether you want to concentrate your giving on a single strategic giving area as the Buffetts did or if you are interested in pursuing multiple areas. You'll also want to consider how integrated you want your philanthropy to be, and will very likely want to revise these areas over time as you learn more. Once you have identified which and how many areas you will support, you will want to prioritize among them.
Deciding on your focus areas can be difficult—there are so many good causes that need help—but making this important decision will enable far greater results with your philanthropic dollars. And be sure to check back next week when we'll discuss decisions around resource allocation.
This is the third post in our new series on "Finding Your Philanthropy Compass." In case you missed a week, see below for previous posts in this series.
"Finding Your Philanthropy Compass" Series• "'Finding Your Philanthropy Compass' Series: A Guide to More Strategic Giving"
• "Sharing Your Philanthropic Beliefs With Others: Why It's Important and How You Can Do It"
• Complete Guide to "Finding Your Philanthropy Compass" (Download PDF)
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