Funders can settle on a focus in many different ways. There is no one right way, and many people use a combination of the methods on the following pages to inform their final decisions. For example, you might choose a focus that respects the donor’s wishes and also incorporates the values and passions of current decision makers. See below for various ways to find commonality among your leadership:
Some funders develop a focus built on common passions. Because passions are often based on emotional connections, the following questions can help to uncover them:
- About whom or what do you care deeply?
- What excites you or brings you the greatest joy?
- What angers you or breaks your heart in our community, our society, or our world?
- What do you believe drives change?
- What kind of future do you aspire to help create?
- Has an event significantly shaped who you are or what you believe?
Even individuals with outwardly polarized views can hold similar values, and, once found, they can lead to a unifying focus.
Uncover shared values by asking questions such as:
- What is critical for an individual to become a productive member of society?
- What was key to your becoming the successful and productive person you are today?
- What values guide your life choices?
In addition, 21/64, a nonprofit consulting group specializing in next generation and multigenerational strategic philanthropy, offers a handy deck of Motivational Values Cards
, each with a value (e.g., justice, family) written on it. Individuals can prioritize the cards according to what motivates their philanthropy, then discuss their rankings with others in their group.
Critical community needs
Some funders want to focus on a particular community but find that interests among decision makers are still too widespread. In these cases, it can be helpful to consider the community’s critical needs. Although people may have their own—often well-informed—visions for a community, it can also be helpful to hear from the community about its needs. With the community’s voice in hand, it is often easier to find commonality and craft a focus that also incorporates the interests, strengths, and skills of the entire group.
Living donors have great freedom in being able to give to their specific interests. If, however, there is an interest in engaging others in their philanthropy, while they are living or afterwards, it is helpful to consider how narrowly donor intent will be defined. Some donors feel strongly that the giving should continue in line with their stated interests; others are open to balancing that with the interests of other decision makers. Commonality between these interests can often be found by looking at the underlying values of donor intent and then crafting a focus based on those values.
Funders often uncover a focus by reviewing past grants. Look for grants that addressed a particularly meaningful cause, stood out because of impressive results, or made you especially proud.
A single strategy
Some funders find focus through a single but powerful strategy. This approach allows you to gain expertise that can be leveraged across issue areas. Capacity building is one such strategy used by funders with few or no staff.
Populations of interest
Think about the populations that interest you. For example, you may want to focus on the elderly or children.
Your mission statement
If you have a formal mission statement, you might want to start by reviewing that. Although a mission statement may be specific—for example, specifying an interest in education, arts, and the environment—it may still lack focus. Each funder must answer this question: Can we be smart, thoughtful, and effective in funding several areas, or are we wise to narrow our interests to something more manageable?