Philanthropy is changing for a host of reasons, but perhaps most of all because funders are demanding more from it. The expectation that funders will be able to achieve impact, and see that impact, changes everything. No longer are donors satisfied with the mere act of writing checks. They want to see results.
Add to this “results orientation” several other realities of today’s philanthropic landscape:
- Philanthropy is more critical, being called to fill in for government cuts.
- Philanthropy is more complex, tackling not only the symptoms but underlying systems.
- Philanthropy is more confusing, with really smart people sharing opposite views of “effective giving”: head versus heart, data versus intuition, proactive versus responsive.
Put these realities together, and the good work of philanthropy can quickly become more intimidating than fulfilling. It’s even tempting to throw up your hands and hope your giving will magically produce great results.
But what I’ve seen in my work with hundreds of funders over the past 14 years is that fulfillment and impact can be achieved—if only we are intentional. But what is intentionality?
To Fund With Intentionality
Being intentional in philanthropy involves the following steps:
- Identify and articulate what you want to achieve. No other step is as critical for fulfillment and impact in your philanthropy. It is just a fact that we can only do a few things well. Focusing your giving helps you prioritize not only your grants, but your time, your energy, and everything else you bring to the table. It also makes it easier to know where to look for impact.
- Learn enough about your area of interest to make educated decisions. Just as successful businesses assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, successful funders understand the context in which they operate. It is critical to grasp key players, field dynamics, funding sources, effective strategies, gaps, and more so you can make educated decisions.
- Define thoughtful strategies for achieving goals and pushing past obstacles. Building on the knowledge gained from scanning the field and listening to nonprofit leaders and practitioners, funders who achieve impact typically outline a clear plan to achieve their goals and then test it with key stakeholders. In addition to dollars, consider the many other assets you have that are critical in achieving your goals: time, influence, reputation, connections, knowledge, experience, and the power to convene.
- Adapt purposefully as feedback and experience dictate. There’s a great deal you won’t know when you create your giving plans, even if well designed. Being intentional about learning is just as critical as defining what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. But learning doesn’t have to mean a full-scale evaluation. It can include conversations with other funders, learning from your grantees successes and setbacks, and/or engaging stakeholders in a meaningful dialogue about what is and isn’t working. If you set your mind on learning, opportunities will arise.
If you deliberately approach these steps one-by-one in a narrow giving area, taking the space and time each piece needs, you’ll be hooked. It is so much more satisfying to give with intentionality, and you’ll have a greater impact too.
Senior Program Director Sara Beggs focuses her time and energy on Exponent Philanthropy’s Getting to Impact Initiative, an effort to equip philanthropists with the information and inspiration to achieve greater impact over time. Her greatest philanthropic joy is participation in Blooming Kids for Kindness, a group of ten families who encourage their children to care about their communities and recognize that each can make a difference through local and international volunteer and fundraising activities.