Where do I start?
Before you dive into donations or volunteering, we recommend taking a bird’s eye view of your philanthropic goals by defining your philanthropic mission, which is the purpose behind your philanthropic activity. Spending time brainstorming around your mission will help bring focus to your philanthropic activities and provide you with a roadmap. Some questions to consider when defining your mission are:
- What are you passionate about?
- How can you identify organizations that align with these passions? And how will you measure this?
- What change do you want to see in the world?
- How do you want to be involved in this change?
- How are you currently supporting this purpose (if at all)?
After brainstorming, spend time synthesizing your ideas into a mission statement – this is not a detailed strategic plan, but rather an overarching purpose or theme for your philanthropy. We recommend keeping it focused and concise so your action steps become clearer and positive so you maintain your motivation and inspiration.
How do I approach giving? Time, treasure, and talent.
Now that you have your mission outlined, you can get started on your philanthropic action plan. One way to look at your action plan is through three main pillars: time (volunteering), treasure (donations), and talent (joining a nonprofit board).
How can I spend my time to support my philanthropic mission?
As with each of the pillars, it’s important that your action plan aligns with your mission and lifestyle so that it’s achievable. While you may like to volunteer on a weekly basis, this might be unrealistic with your current obligations and constraints. Identify what is achievable within your current lifestyle to ensure you don’t make promises you can’t keep to the organizations you love the most. Some questions to consider are:
- How much time does your schedule allow for volunteering? Where is there space to include volunteering?
- How much time – weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly, for example – would you like to devote to volunteering?
- What impact are you hoping to have by sharing your time with your organizations of choice?
Once you’ve outlined how you will give your time, next you must find out where you can volunteer. You may have already identified some organizations that align with your philanthropic mission when previously outlining your mission statement. Now, you’ll need to determine if the time you’ve carved out for volunteering is aligned with the volunteer opportunities at your desired organizations. Most organizations’ websites include pages on how you can get involved, including any time commitment requirements or options.
How should I determine who to donate (my treasure) to?
When it comes to supporting organizations through donations, we recommend creating a budget/outline for your philanthropic giving.
For example, if you have a yearly budget of $1,000 for philanthropy, your outline might look like:
- $500 toward organizations whose activities fit within the goals of your philanthropic mission
- $300 toward causes for friends and family (e.g., running a marathon for charity)
- $200 toward philanthropic events (e.g., fundraisers, golf outings for charity)
A clear outline allows you to further your efforts toward your philanthropic mission without overextending, and a budget aligned with your philanthropic mission helps with navigating solicitation (which can feel overwhelming).
When considering donations, we also recommend spending time vetting charities to determine if your contributions will be best supporting your overall goals. Two places to check are:
- GuideStar: A database that includes information on nonprofits, such as 990 forms, that you can download to see better insight into the spending and structure of your chosen charities
- Charity Navigator: A site that rates charitable organizations on a four-star scale by evaluating them on categories including accountability and finance, impact and results, leadership and adaptability, and culture and community
How can I use my talent by joining a nonprofit board?
Another way you can work toward your philanthropic mission is by joining a nonprofit board. Sharing you own expertise (talent) can be a great way to get involved in an organization that aligns with your mission and interests and can help you have an even greater impact on the causes most important to you. Joining a nonprofit board can be more difficult to access than volunteering. We recommend considering the following steps toward joining a board.
Begin by researching nonprofits that align with your mission and interests. Consider questions like:
- What programs have been successful?
- Where are there areas of opportunity for the organization?
- What does the organization want to focus on in the next few years? Does this align with your mission?
- What is the time commitment? How often does the board meet?
- Are there monetary commitments, like a minimum yearly donation? Does this fit within your budget?
Next, you’ll create your personal sales strategy to identify and clearly communicate your strengths. Boards are looking for members with specific skill sets – it may be technology, financial analysis, or marketing. Ask yourself:
- How can you bring your skills to the organization?
- Can you highlight your skill set and unique perspective through writing or public speaking? (This can be a great way to increase your name recognition and personal brand.)
Finally, consider how you can build and leverage your network. Building a network is critical in all aspects of your professional and personal life and is key to identifying and getting nonprofit board opportunities.
- Are there any college alumni groups, industry conferences, or local organizations you can join?
- Who can you connect with on LinkedIn from the current board? Do you have any mutual connections?
Find a nonprofit where you feel aligned with the organization’s mission. If you feel passionate about the organization, being authentic will come easily. Find an organization and a board where there is a cultural fit. Be yourself and enjoy what you do.
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