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Strategic Philanthropy

What role does passion play in philanthropy?

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What role does passion play in philanthropy? In many cases, we may think that passion boils down to the emotion behind giving. But passion can’t be quantified that way. It’s a powerful feeling for an issue, cause, or organization that commands your interest and fuels your desire to make change. It can’t be discovered in one single way. Passion is unique to each donor, and the path to finding it isn’t linear. As with many endeavors in life, tapping into your passion increases your commitment to the work, which in turn increases your effectiveness and the impact your efforts can have. The same is true in philanthropy – when a donor discovers their passion and centers it in their giving, their philanthropy becomes not only more impactful but also more personally fulfilling. 

At the center of passion in philanthropy is the commitment to your most important beliefs and values. Some might equate this notion of passion with “flow”, the psychological concept recognized and named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. One of the pioneers of the scientific study of happiness, he defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” – they are completely absorbed in an activity that involves their creative abilities. Key elements include clear goals, a balance between challenges and skills, and merging of action and awareness. 

As a philanthropist, it can be difficult to reflect on your deeply held values and concerns – and to articulate what you most want to accomplish with your giving – so you can get the greatest satisfaction and have the most impact. We explore this idea in greater detail within TPI’s primer, Place for Passion in Philanthropy, and offer three key questions as a guide to finding what you are most passionate about when it comes to your philanthropy. 

Why is passion in philanthropy important? 

Many wealthy donors find themselves participating in philanthropy but never truly committing. At TPI, we know from our work with many clients over the years that finding their passion helps them get greater satisfaction and can create a connection to their giving that is more than a feeling of reciprocity or responsibility. For donors, deeply felt causes can: 

  • Fuel your initiative 
  • Help you find creative solutions in the event of roadblocks and disappointments 
  • Derive greater satisfaction 
  • Feed your personal growth and creativity 
  • Inspire others to support your cause 
  • Allow you to have a greater impact on an issue or area 

What are the obstacles to finding passion in philanthropy? 

It’s easy to get caught up in challenges and pitfalls that can prevent you from achieving greater impact through your philanthropy. Common obstacles that donors deal with when trying to nurture the philanthropic impulse include: 

  • Skepticism about what can be accomplished 
  • Distrust of nonprofit organizations 
  • Being in a reactive mode due to an overload of funder requests 
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of some issues 
  • Lack of time 

 In the TPI primer Place for Passion in Philanthropy, you can find possible solutions to these and other obstacles. 

How do I find my philanthropic interests and passion? 

Pathways to discovering your philanthropic passions can be different for everyone. For some, the work starts with understanding your core values. For others, interest may be sparked by an experience, a conversation, or exposure to something new. To open yourself up to activities that could serve as that spark, some approaches are to: 

  • Visit good organizations and see the work for yourself 
  • Volunteer your time to connect directly with a specific program or cause 
  • Contribute skills or interests to make giving more personal 
  • Join others to create shared interest 
  • Serve on a board of directors 

Place for Passion in Philanthropy offers several strategies and activities while providing a guiding hand to donors who are trying to find their passion. We also offer additional resources, including a series of exercises that can help you figure out your philanthropic passions. For many, finding your passion is a starting point, not an ending point. It’s not about “feel-good philanthropy” but about harnessing the powerful balance of the head and the heart that is so important to making a difference on the issues you care most about. 

Going back to the concept of “flow”, Csikszentmihalyi offers a profound observation: 

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. 

Is there a better description of engaged and passionate philanthropy at its very best? 

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash