A Process for Giving

How do we find that cause and organization, and how do we decide on the most appropriate method for giving? Here are some questions to help you get started:

1. What kind of organization do you want to support?

Whether you care about the arts, education or the environment, you’ll face some similar options. Do you want to support a local group or a national/international one? A large and established group or a new and struggling one? Each alternative presents different psychological rewards. A large, international group may speak to your need to fuel global solutions, while a small local group may offer the sense of making a visible, tangible difference. You can use the web to do some of your research. Two popular websites that may be helpful are www.charitynavigator.org and www.guidestar.org.

2. What type of donor do you want to be?

Do you prefer to be hands-off, giving money to worthy organizations that are doing good work? Or do you want to be an active donor who takes a board position and works closely with the group’s executives? Both approaches can be effective. Melinda and Bill Gates epitomize the active donor, spending tremendous amounts of time and money through their own foundation to fulfill their vision for improving the world. Warren Buffett, on the other hand, is a good example of a hands-off donor. He saw what the Gates were doing, liked it, and opted to give large sums to the Gates Foundation to use as it wished.

3. If you want to be active, how active?

Many nonprofits have been around for a long time, perhaps longer than you have been. They are often established organizations with their own internal policies and politics. Most organizations can be improved and nonprofits are certainly no exception, but be mindful of the fact that if they have survived for a long time, they’re probably doing many things right. The role of a board member is very different from that of a CEO or manager: Good board members need to build consensus, provide oversight, and give strategic advice while avoiding the pitfalls of micromanagement.

4. How would you like your money used?

Major donors can often specify the use of their gift to support a particular program within a nonprofit, or construct a new building, or publicize the nonprofit’s position on an issue, etc. Keep in mind that for most nonprofits, the most valuable gift is one that covers general operational costs. It’s often not the most glamorous use, but it allows them to keep their doors open and perform their mission. One fruitful option is to use your gift as a challenge grant, inspiring others to give by promising to match their donations.

5. What does the charity expect from working with you?

Being on a board requires you to give generously of your time and loyalty. Beyond that, the charity will most likely have specific expectations of you. For example, if you are well-connected in the community, they may expect you to fundraise. If you have a legal background, they may expect you to review contracts or connect them with pro bono expertise.

6. What do you expect from working with the charity?

Do you want your name on a building or project, or are you more comfortable being anonymous? Who would you like to work with inside the charity? From years of acting on behalf of our clients, we’ve learned that negotiating with charities can be tedious and time-consuming. But as with any relationship, communication is the key to satisfying your charitable goals. Avoid surprises on both sides by being clear about your intentions and obligations before donating any of your time or money. Your interest and maybe even your passion will be obvious to the charity, so make sure that it is reciprocated. Don’t move ahead if you feel you are being taken for granted. Philanthropy should be a rewarding experience – both for the charity and for you.