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Strategic Philanthropy

Three Quick Tips to Avoid Doing Philanthropy in a Vacuum

By April 13, 2021May 2nd, 2022No Comments

The budget is set, the philanthropic goals are identified, the plan for finding funding opportunities is ready to be implemented. Yet many funders still feel uncertain at this point. Might there be a way to be more strategic, to reach beyond “the usual suspects,” to achieve even greater impact? Funders who find themselves asking these kinds of questions may be operating in a bit of a vacuum and are probably starting the journey up the TPI Philanthropic Curve in the evolution of strategic philanthropy.

I’d like to offer three simple tactics for building strong information channels to establish a better base on which to assess and manage your giving. Even for those with limited time, these approaches can offer a way to get started or to move further along in your learning.

1. Connect with other funders with shared goals, or with regional or national philanthropy associations.

Nearly every broad category of philanthropy or type of funder has an organization dedicated to building community and sharing knowledge. Grantmakers in Health and Grantmakers for Education, for example, convene funders and create resources around health and education. Maybe you are focused on fair housing, the environment, or international issues, and want to connect with like-minded donors through an organization like NEID. Perhaps you’re a corporate leader focused on social impact and would benefit from a coalition like CECP. Often you can locate organizations tackling different issues or focused on specific geographies through a simple search, or you can find a philanthropy supporting organization through United Philanthropy Forum. If you want to work locally, consider following an area community foundation, or look at national associations like Exponent Philanthropy, the National Center for Family Philanthropy, or the Council on Foundations. Once you find an organization worth exploring, test them out. Attend events. Follow them on social media. Use their resources. While you gauge whether one group might be right for membership, you also are meeting other funders and nonprofits sharing your concerns and goals.

2. Access resources from trusted sources.

Several organizations serve the funder community with objective and comprehensive resources. In addition to their blogs, many offer reports, tools, and other materials that feature innovations and best practices. Examples include Giving Compass and the Center for Effective Philanthropy, philanthropy supporting organizations and affinity groups like those mentioned above, and publications like the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Inside Philanthropy, and Stanford Social Innovation Review. And here at The Philanthropic Initiative we have a broad range of guides, reports, and other resources for funders of all types, corporate philanthropy leaders, professional advisors with high-net-worth clients, and the broader field of philanthropy. We and others also offer resources on roles of philanthropy in advancing racial equity and social justice, supporting COVID-related needs and opportunities, and addressing other social and environmental issues. And if we don’t have what you’re looking for, we’re happy to help you find it!

3. Listen to and learn from your grantees and others with deep knowledge connected to your philanthropic goals.

This sounds obvious, but sometimes the greatest wealth of knowledge literally is sitting right in front of a funder. Funders who seek lasting impact on the issues and in the communities they care about find ways to engage deeply with their grantees and others in an effort to tap into valuable perspectives and knowledge. Some funders arrange periodic conversations with grantee partners, seek out volunteer opportunities, embark on listening tours, or even convene thought leaders and practitioners in big picture thinking about creative opportunities for impact that may be “around the corner.” Think about your philanthropic goals, and who can best help you understand the issues and paths to the future. And bring your “beginner’s mind” to these conversations!

No matter what kind of funder you are, if you need a stronger network of resources to be more confident and strategic in your giving, to take your giving to the next level, we encourage you to spend just 15 minutes to an hour this coming week checking out organizations, downloading resources, or inviting a grantee to talk with you over virtual coffee about recent achievements and challenges. That next step up the TPI Philanthropic Curve can help you to become more engaged, more strategic, and more effective. And you will no longer feel you are operating in a vacuum, but within a vibrant and powerful community.