Giving is its own reward, offering satisfaction and a sense of purpose. Philanthropy, however, is ultimately something more than giving. At its best, it’s sustainable, long-term, and intended to turn the act of giving into lasting change.
Sustainable philanthropy begins with a clear understanding of why you are giving and a clear vision of how you intend to create the change you want to see. For example, your “why” may be that you want to help reduce homelessness. How you plan to achieve it may range from local, hands-on action to championing reform or reusing resources.
In most cases, no “how” is inherently better than another. However, understanding how you want to create change drives several other considerations, including how you structure and communicate your philanthropy. Consider the following ways you might pursue your objective:
- Relief: Making a direct contribution or taking direct action to meet an immediate need. For example, sending supplies to a stricken area or providing food for the hungry in your community.
- Enhancement: You may seek to address a problem by improving conditions at its foundation or enabling people to improve their situation by providing new opportunities. Infrastructure improvements or funding scholarships are examples.
- Reform: Advocating for policies or social action that would improve conditions at the heart of the issue you want to address.
- Engagement: Working with a community or group to help them advocate on their behalf with governments, institutions, or other communities.
- Innovation: Supporting research and technologies that may address or alleviate a problem. For example, addressing concerns about access to clean water by creating sustainable solutions.
Many philanthropies pursue multiple methods of addressing a problem, while others maintain a single focus where they believe they can have the biggest impact. Your choices will drive several other considerations:
- Timeframe: Relief efforts focus on making an immediate impact on a need. Other efforts may take more extended periods to have an effect or to come to fruition. Think about how your choices affect the required flows of financial support, the ways of measuring success, and other operational considerations.
- Collaboration: You may prefer to keep complete independence in how you take action. Even so, temporary and long-term collaborations may be necessary. For example, community-based action may be more effective when leveraging existing community groups. Also, enlisting other donors may deepen your impact.
- Publicity: Do you prefer to remain anonymous or work in the background? Or do you want to be able to advocate openly to encourage others to help? Consider whether publicity, whether big or small, about your efforts may help further your goals.
There are no “right” answers. There are only answers that are right for you and what you hope to achieve. Once you decide what’s right for you, you can begin to structure the foundations, endowments, trusts, and organizations to help bring about the change you want to see.