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Strategic Philanthropy

Finding the Tipping Point: Leveling Up to Strategic, High-Impact Philanthropy

By May 26, 2021September 22nd, 2021No Comments

Do you give to a long list of organizations, mostly in response to requests for funding? Are you frustrated by a sense that you could be doing more, or at least questioning whether your philanthropy could achieve greater impact? Whether a funder is giving away $10,000 or $100 million, there are a multitude of ways to apply philanthropic resources to achieve real impact. TPI was founded on this belief, that all who seek to achieve greater impact can become more proactive, apply a strategic lens to their efforts, and ultimately be a change-maker.

Once donors decide to move past “checkbook giving,” many try to find some balance between proactive and responsive philanthropy that feels right to them. Some funders start out digging deep into one issue and supporting a few organizations within this one area. Others think about their philanthropic focus in other ways, supporting organizations with strong leadership or within a certain geographic area. As funders get clearer on their philanthropic goals and learn more about their areas of interest, they can begin to understand and address root causes to level up their impact. At TPI, we often refer to this as “high-impact” philanthropy – taking a proactive approach to philanthropy, defining goals, learning and uncovering funding opportunities to support those goals, and creatively leveraging available resources to maximize results.

To put it simply, there are an array of roles a funder can play and strategies a funder can use to enhance the impact of philanthropic resources. The challenge is to determine which roles and strategies are most likely to support a funder’s specific goals – and to then execute effectively, assess impact over time, and use evaluation findings to refine or revamp strategies.

TPI’s primer, Strategic Philanthropy: Potential Roles & Strategies, is a helpful resource for funders who are ready to get a bit more sophisticated in thinking about their philanthropy. Whether you have been giving for some time and are starting to explore these ideas, or you are eager and ready to hit the ground running in a strategic way, this primer can help you:

1. Move from goals to high-impact strategies

Regardless of how much you have to give, it’s how you give that is most important. TPI’s primer outlines five steps in the process of moving to a high-impact strategy for your giving. These steps tie into three benchmarks you pass along the way. First, you (1) increase your level of knowledge as you develop your giving strategies, so you can (2) determine the highest and best use of your philanthropic resources. Ultimately, you (3) feel increasingly satisfied with your philanthropy because you can see how it is contributing to positive change.

2. Explore the roles funders can play to support the kinds of changes they hope to achieve with their philanthropy

We define five roles that funders can play depending on their goals and strategies:

  • Innovator/incubator, for funders who want to seed new initiatives and innovative approaches
  • Disseminator/replicator, for funders who seek to expand and spread models that have proven to be effective
  • Capacity builder, for funders working to build capacity of nonprofit organizations or within communities of interest
  • Convener/connector, for funders who want to facilitate peer learning and sharing among peers, grantee partners, thought leaders, or other groups
  • Change agent/catalyst, for funders who are working to change systems or institutions in fundamental and lasting ways

3. Learn from a variety of examples of philanthropic strategies

Finally, in the primer we offer eight illustrative examples of philanthropic strategies. These examples represent a wide range of approaches, including place-based philanthropy, issue-focused initiatives, creation of new organizations, MacArthur-style awards, and more.

Through consideration of a variety of tools – both roles and strategies – thoughtful funders can find opportunities to leverage long-term change. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The Tipping Point, “the slightest push—in just the right place” can be critical to success. With so much change underway in the world around us, we invite you to reflect on what strategic, high-impact philanthropy could mean to you and for the issues you care about most. Please download the free 16-page Strategic Philanthropy: Potential Roles & Strategies primer to learn more and spark some ideas. And as always, we encourage you to stay in touch.

(Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash)