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Three Ways to Give on Purpose

Nearly two hundred years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that one key distinctive of the United States of America was the willingness of its citizens to voluntarily come together to support one another.  Today, we recognize this concept as “philanthropy,” which means literally “love of humanity,” or generosity in more modern terminology.

In its simplest form, all generosity can be characterized in one of three ways:

  • Charity = see a need, meet a need
    Example: outpouring of support when a community crisis hits, such as a tornado or a pandemic
  • Responsive generosity = give because someone asks
    Example: sponsoring an event because your friend asked you to do so or supporting your alma mater because a current student called and asked
  • Strategic generosity = invest in a cause that is deeply meaningful to you and that reflects how you want to change the world
    Example: setting up a scholarship fund for first-generation college students because you understand, personally, the struggle

The first step in “giving on purpose” is to take a look at your current generosity and to group it within these three categories.  How does your giving stack up?  Any surprises?  Although there is truly no magic formula, most donors are surprised at how little of their giving actually goes to the causes and organizations that are most important to them.  Instead, they find themselves funding others’ priorities in large measure. 

Once you see this disconnect, how can you be more intentional about changing it? How do you give on purpose?  The key is to discover your “bigger yes” so that you can get comfortable saying “no” to some great projects and great organizations.

  1. The first step to give on purpose is to be informed. Going through the exercise of grouping your giving into these three categories will give you a great baseline from which to make changes. If, for example, you are only giving ten percent (10%) of your charitable dollars to your strategic generosity, what would it look like if you reallocated your giving budget so that half of all your giving went to support your priorities? 

    Once you identify your priorities, which organizations do you know who are making a difference in this area?  Do you need to do more research to broaden the net?  Go on a fact-finding mission to understand what it would look like to truly practice strategic generosity in an area that is meaningful to you.
  2. The second step to give on purpose is to be intentional. The reality is that no matter how much money you have, there will always be more needs than you have the resources to meet. No matter who you are.  Even the world’s richest philanthropists have to focus their giving on the priorities most important to them.  Remember, every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else.  Choose wisely.
  3. The final step to give on purpose is to be impactful. Think of generosity as the investment in the future you want to see. Which organizations and causes can partner with you in this quest?  How are they measuring their outcomes?  In other words, how will your community be different because of your investment?  Are their outcomes in line with what is important to you?  Most investors would never invest their money without some expectation of a financial return, and yet too often donors invest their charitable donations without expecting any return on their charitable dollars.  The returns for charitable donations aren’t measured in traditional ROI terms, but they should be measured and can be shared.  It’s accountability in action.  Most donors understand that nonprofit organizations are doing very difficult work; in many cases, it’s an issue or problem where there is no easy solution.  However, successful nonprofit organizations will invite their donors into the journey with them.  They will share what they are learning, including what doesn’t work as intended. Strategic generosity then becomes a true partnership of what can happen when donors and nonprofit organizations work together to solve really tough problems.

At the Community Foundation, we specialize in helping donors be generous however that looks to them.  If we can help you on your generosity journey, we would be honored to do so.