7 lessons from 7 years of strate­gic phi­lan­thropy

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Bruce De­boskey

Seven years ago, I be­gan work­ing closely with fam­i­lies, busi­nesses and foun­da­tions to help them achieve greater impact for them­selves and their com­mu­ni­ties through phi­lan­thropy. Over that time, much has changed and I’ve gained prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and learned valu­able lessons.

The field of strate­gic phi­lan­thropy is more so­phis­ti­cated and com­plex. The op­por­tu­ni­ties for phi­lan­thropists to make a dif­fer­ence are bet­ter de­fined. The un­der­stand­ing of phil­an­thropic “best prac­tices” has evolved.

Al­though mis­sion-based phi­lan­thropy is highly in­di­vid­u­al­ized, there are some broadly ap­pli­ca­ble lessons. Here are seven that have risen to the top over the past seven years.

In de­ci­sion-mak­ing, use two lenses

When set­ting phil­an­thropic goals, donors should look through two lenses. The ex­ter­nal lens helps us an­swer the ques­tion, “What are we hop­ing to ac­com­plish for our com­mu­nity, coun­try or world?” The in­ter­nal lens helps us an­swer, “What am I hop­ing to achieve for my fam­ily, busi­ness or self by do­nat­ing hard-earned money and pre­cious time to char­ity?”

Both ques­tions are im­por­tant.

Your thought­ful an­swers in­form an ef­fec­tive strat­egy to achieve both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal goals through phi­lan­thropy. Donors who ne­glect one or both of these ques­tions miss the op­por­tu­nity not only to “make a dif­fer­ence,” but also to fully en­gage fam­ily mem­bers or busi­ness stake­hold­ers in truly mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion about val­ues, goals, pri­or­i­ties and lessons learned.

Cre­ate a “safe zone” for fam­ily phi­lan­thropy

In most cases, phi­lan­thropy rep­re­sents a small frac­tion of a fam­ily’s as­sets. Cre­ate a sep­a­rate ta­ble for con­sid­er­a­tion of these as­sets, and in­vite all mem­bers of the fam­ily to sit there as equals. This is a key step to­wards cre­at­ing a “safe zone” for im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion about phi­lan­thropy, which can lead to more en­gage­ment, en­hanced fam­ily dy­nam­ics and greater impact.

Often, each gen­er­a­tion of a fam­ily has its own view of the role phi­lan­thropy plays in­ter­nally

and ex­ter­nally. Be­cause of their unique life ex­pe­ri­ences, the ris­ing gen­er­a­tions have per­spec­tives that can dif­fer from that of the wealth-cre­at­ing gen­er­a­tion. On this shared jour­ney, each has much to of­fer to and learn from the oth­ers.

In busi­ness, en­gage other stake­hold­ers

Busi­ness stake­hold­ers can in­clude em­ploy­ees, di­rec­tors, share­hold­ers, cus­tomers, ven­dors, reg­u­la­tors, lenders and com­mu­nity lead­ers. Each stake­holder of­fers a dif­fer­ent and valu­able per­spec­tive on the role of the com­pany in the com­mu­nity. Look­ing beyond the “C-suite” in an ef­fort to en­gage a wide range of stake­hold­ers in phil­an­thropic plan­ning and im­ple­men­ta­tion greatly en­hances in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal ef­fec­tive­ness.

Go deep, not wide

Many donors adopt the “peanut but­ter” ap­proach to giv­ing — spread­ing their char­ity thinly across a wide va­ri­ety of non­prof­its. Donors and ben­e­fi­cia­ries alike ben­e­fit when donors fo­cus deeply on a smaller num­ber of care­fully se­lected key is­sues or causes. By go­ing deep, not wide, donors can ad­vance their phi­lan­thropy from trans­ac­tional to trans­for­ma­tional.

Give while you live

Giv­ing in the present is much more sat­is­fy­ing than giv­ing in the fu­ture — from the grave. Guar­an­teed. When you give while you live, you can learn about and ex­pe­ri­ence the in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal im­pacts of your phi­lan­thropy. Plus, as gov­ern­ment bud­gets shrink, the causes that you care about need your help to­day, not down the road.

Align in­vest­ments, mis­sion

Nearly $1 tril­lion cur­rently sits in foun­da­tions and donor-ad­vised funds. This money is com­mit­ted to char­i­ta­ble mis­sions, has re­ceived a tax de­duc­tion and can­not be re­turned. Each year, just 5 per­cent to 20 per­cent of that amount is dis­trib­uted to non­prof­its. The rest is usu­ally in­vested for the sin­gle bot­tom line of fi­nan­cial growth.

By us­ing the en­gine of these as­sets, rather than just the fumes, all of this “phi­lan­throp­i­cally com­mit­ted cap­i­tal” can be de­ployed to help you at­tain your mis­sion. Impact in­vest­ing that uses MRI, PRI and SRI tools can help you achieve much more bang for your phil­an­thropic buck.

Give boldly and take risks

Peo­ple rarely do­nate so much to char­ity that they can no longer pro­vide for them­selves or their loved ones. Yet, many of us can give far more than we do. Your fi­nan­cial ad­viser can help de­ter­mine what you can re­ally af­ford to give — and then give boldly.

Be­cause it seeks to solve seem­ingly in­tractable prob­lems, phi­lan­thropy can be seen as the ul­ti­mate “risk cap­i­tal.” Tak­ing cal­cu­lated risks with grant mak­ing may be the only way to find new so­lu­tions to old prob­lems.

Phi­lan­thropy, done well, is a pow­er­ful tool that adds mean­ing, joy and pur­pose to life and en­hances busi­ness suc­cess. I hope that these lessons are help­ful to you.

Bruce De­boskey, J.D., is a phil­an­thropic strate­gist work­ing across the U.S. to help fam­i­lies, busi­nesses and foun­da­tions de­sign and im­ple­ment thought­ful phil­an­thropic strate­gies and ac­tion­able plans. He is a fre­quent key­note speaker at con­fer­ences and work­shops on phi­lan­thropy. Visit de­boskey­group.com.

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