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Intentional Giving

by Will Miller

June 7,2008

How much thought do you give to your giving? Are you guilty of “checkbook philanthropy” – you just write checks based on who asks and what comes in the mail? Do you choose the fundraisers you attend by the names of the sponsors or who is attending? And how do you choose where you volunteer your time? Are those choices made in the same way?

You are investing your two most valuable resources in the community – your time and your money. Why then don’t you approach this investment just like you do your other financial and time commitments? Why don’t you put the same thought into this part of your life?

Is it that you don’t expect any return? Or is it that you just have faith that there will be a return. Or are you one of those people who think that no one can really make a measureable difference anyway?

If you are up to the challenge, it isn’t all that difficult to change your process. All you need is a sound strategy. And here is one that should work for you.

First, determine what issues you are passionate about, because that’s where you will find your greatest fulfillment. You will enjoy learning about these issues, and will be more likely to put in the time to understand them better. Next, conduct a little research about these issues. Most of the information you are looking for is readily found on the Internet. With each issue, try and determine the problems, challenges, and available resources dealing with the issue. Ideally, you will be able to identify the programs and best practices that have proven to be successful in addressing the problem. Find out what the root causes of the problem are and what efforts have proven successful at attacking them. After all, why put your time and money into treating a problem when you could spend the same resources preventing the problem from ever occurring?

After you are up to speed on the strategies and programs that deserve your investment, begin looking around the community for organizations that employ those strategies. Chances are you will find the correct organization by making a few phone calls. Once you do, then ask them if they will allow you to restrict your financial gifts to only the program(s) that your research has shown have been successful. And, hopefully, find a way to volunteer with that organization in order to ensure that your financial investment has the best chance to make a difference.

However, should you not find someone addressing this problem, or not employing the best practices to address the problem, you will be faced with a dilemma. Do you settle for supporting the closest thing to what your research shows to be successful, or do you push on to help create initiatives that you have learned work. For your own satisfaction, and the improved health of the community, I suggest you pursue the latter strategy.

Oftentimes, non-profit staffs are so bogged down in ensuring their every day existence that they do not have the time to stay current with the best practices in their discipline. Ideally, the Boards of these organizations should be working at this strategic level, but many times they are fully focused on tactical issues, such as fundraising and marketing.

But the Boards are the place to start. Change comes hard and it will take strong Board action to drive a new or expanded program offering. Identify the non-profit organization whose stated mission fits with your chosen issue. Armed with your research, contact the Board Chair to make your case. If they are truly focused on the mission of the organization, they should be anxious to hear your case. If that person is unwilling, try and find another Board member with a sympathetic ear. Provided you have the time, ask for a seat on the Board so you can share your knowledge and passion for the organization’s mission.

Too much work? Too much time? Then stick with your current strategy. Who knows, maybe you are allocating your resources in an effective and efficient manner. But if you are, you will never know.

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