September 6, 2012

Sharing Your Philanthropic Beliefs With Others: Why It's Important and How You Can Do It

By: The Bridgespan Group
Last week in the first post of our "Finding Your Philanthropy Compass" series, we covered four questions that you'll want to answer for yourself in order to create more strategic philanthropy. This week let's look at the process for identifying and communicating your philanthropic values and beliefs.

Why is communicating your core philanthropic values—in writing—so important? Writing down what you care about and why, and how your values and beliefs will help you make funding decisions, is important for two reasons. First, establishing some guardrails up front will help you respond to what may soon feel like an endless number of requests for funds. Without them, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the number and type of opportunities to do some good, and it may become hard to say no to potential grant recipients. Second, clearly articulating your values and beliefs will also help everyone else who has a stake in making decisions on your behalf, now and potentially long into the future.

That clear articulation is crucial: If such statements of intent are unclear, they can leave confusion in the benefactor’s wake. Recall the case of Leona Helmsley, who left more than $5 billion to her charitable trust, accompanied by multiple, unclear “mission statements” on how to spend that money. Confusion and disagreement over Helmsley’s intent landed her trustees in court to seek guidance on how to spend the fortune. (For more on the case of Leona Helmsley, visit the Philanthropy Roundtable’s article.)
  As for how to communicate your own philanthropic values and beliefs, there is no single right way to do it. Still, you may find these two common devices helpful:
  • A mission statement is a statement of the overall values that guide your giving. Mission statements are typically short (as short as a sentence, or a single paragraph), and provide a useful overview lens through which to consider decisions.
  • A statement of donor intent or philanthropic purpose, typically longer than a mission statement, adds color and detail to your organization’s mission. In the words of The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), a leading philanthropy advisory, a statement of donor intent is “a recording created to share your motivations, hopes and goals with heirs, successor trustees and/or beneficiaries of your philanthropy in a direct, personal and enduring way.”
Before you start to write a mission statement or statement of intent, it can be useful to put down some “anchors” by identifying those particular values around which you think you want to center your giving choices. We call these anchors the “Five Ps”: Are there certain people, places, problems, pathways (i.e., particular approaches or solutions), and philosophies that matter to you, and, if so, how will they define your giving? Use these anchors to ground your approach to giving. Then build on that foundation to flesh out the type of statement that works best for you. Be sure to check back next week when we discuss how you can use your core beliefs to identify strategic giving initiatives.

This is the second post in our new series on "Finding Your Philanthropy Compass." (See our first post here.) We invite you to tell us what you think by commenting below or with #PhilanthropyCompass on Twitter. You can follow Give Smart updates at @BridgespanGroup. If you'd like, you can read the full guide, "Finding Your Philanthropy Compass" (web or PDF download), on which this series is based.

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