By Hanh Le, Exponent Philanthropy
Your philanthropic journey is sure to be a remarkable one: often cyclical, rarely linear, and greatly shaped by your particular circumstances.
Are you prepared to navigate the twists and turns that are sure to arise over time? Our nearly two decades of experience working with, listening to, and observing philanthropists with few or no staff suggests seven transition points common in the philanthropic journey.
Selecting a philanthropic vehicle. There are many options for structured giving, and your choice will influence your impact, your governance and administration, and your tax advantages. Trusted philanthropic advisors are often integral to these choices, and to putting into place the vehicles you choose.
Finding a focus. Taking time to focus can help you clarify what you want to achieve and measure progress toward your goals. Many funders focus on a particular field of interest, population, or geography. Others focus by strategy (e.g., building technology capacity) and bolster a range of grantees by applying those strategies. There is no one right way to settle on a focus, and many funders consider a combination of factors to determine theirs, including passions, values, and critical community needs. See the article “Choosing a Focus”
Becoming impact-driven. Individuals engage in philanthropy for many reasons, and many consciously put impact front and center at some point in the philanthropic journey. Some are motivated by impact from the start; others, after years of giving. See our resources on philanthropic impact and recent blog posts on philanthropic impact
Employing assets beyond dollars. Many funders complement their giving with a wide range of nondollar strategies: knowledge about community needs, power as public figures, reputation, freedom, expertise, and time. Few set out to apply these resources from the start; instead, many find themselves drawn into this powerful work by their impulses to offer help and by recognizing the value of these assets to nonprofits and their clients. See our primer 20 Ways to Make a Difference
Managing leadership succession. Leadership succession takes many forms in philanthropy: engaging the next generation, hiring a first CEO, replacing a top administrator, or bringing on new board members. See our primer Hiring Great Staff and our recent blog posts on leadership succession
Ramping up. In philanthropy, ramping up—a significant increase in charitable giving and/or other charitable activities—typically results from an increase in assets; a desire to have greater impact; or shifting social, political, economic, community, or environmental contexts. Ramping up typically involves building internal capacity by hiring staff, engaging volunteers, or contracting paid consultants.
Spending down. Philanthropists sometimes decide to spend down a particular giving vehicle to have more impact now; because a donor has mandated the closure; or for a number of other sound reasons. To close shop in a way that is legal, respectful of grantees, and considerate of staff—and that maximizes your impact and legacy—it is key to consult legal counsel early and often, and to create a plan that documents the many necessary steps. See our primer “Closing Shop”
All in all, your philanthropy’s transition points can present opportunities for you to clarify your objectives, engage others, streamline your operations, increase your fulfilment, and ultimately move closer to your goals.
Chief Program Officer Hanh Le leads our Programs and Services Team in guiding, connecting, championing, and elevating philanthropy with few or no staff. She has directed training, grant, and technical assistance programs for KaBOOM!, Community Technology Centers’ Network, and Peace Corps. Passionate about collaborative impact and community, Hanh helped launch the DC-area’s first Asian American giving circle, the Cherry Blossom Giving Circle.