The Path to Strategic Philanthropy Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts from TrustBridge Global on Strategic Philanthropy.  The people of TrustBridge Global have decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge and expertise in charitable giving. This series is intended to be a value-added resource – worth your time to read.

Many of the families we’ve served share a common journey from “reactive check writing” to proactive strategic philanthropy. Along the way they experience greater joy as their giving has greater impact on the causes they are passionate about – while benefiting their business and their family. What does that look like and how does one get on that path?

Moving to Strategic Philanthropy is well worth the effort. It is a huge subject area that would fill many books, but it’s possible to summarize the most basic tenets:

  1. It Starts With Passion – When you think about your community, another country or the world in general, what makes you angry? What is your calling? What ignites your passions? This passion (or these passions) could be yours or a fusion of your family’s interests. Ultimately, it leads towards a vision of creating change. For example: Sara’s passion is anti-human trafficking as a result of her travels in Eastern Europe. She is energized by the vision of putting an end to this horrific crime.
  2. Narrowing the Focus – What issue? Where? Who? Example: Realizing she cannot be everywhere and do everything, Sara narrows her focus: a) combating sex trafficking of b) young women in c) Belarus.
  3. Your Unique Approach – Based on your personality, preferences and resources, you will arrive at an approach to change that is unique. Are you hands on? How much resource can you supply? Do you want to supply other resources such as time, influence in addition to money? Go it alone or partner with others? Sara is a busy executive, so partnering and/or funding an existing program is a must. She is willing to add some of her influence as a business owner, plus would want ways to involve her husband and adult children.
  4. Specific Theory of Change – Continuing to research possible activities, narrowing to realistic and specific goals and defining hoped-for outcomes leads to a theory of change. One of Sara’s theories of change is that empowering at-risk people to make informed decisions about migration abroad will reduce the number of young women tricked into sex trafficking. One of Sara’s children finds a successful program in the Ukraine, so Sara partners with La Strada Belarus to provide educational programs and a 24 hour hotline so young women can investigate and find resources for legitimate and safe overseas opportunities. For USD 50,000, Sara helps fund trainers to visit 1,000 secondary and vocational schools and for another USD 150,000 helps underwrite a billboard campaign to promote the hotline’s awareness for one year. The hoped-for outcome is that awareness of the dangers of international migration and the hotline will rise to 90% among the roughly 700,000 women between 15-29 years of age.
  5. Evaluation and Iteration – Theories by definition are still conjectural and subject to experimentation. As we put our theory of change into action, outcomes need to be evaluated and iterative adjustments to the program. A survey drive six months into the program collects awareness data as well as anecdotal evidence of successful and unsuccessful outcomes. The NGO feels that radio would be an effective addition to raise awareness and Sara adds an additional USD 70,000 for a radio advertising campaign for the hotline.

At best, this is a crude framework for a subject area and process that has many important sub-disciplines. How can lasting change be established by developing indigenous leadership? How can theories of change be originated by locals instead of outsiders? How can one find charities to trust? How can one approach philanthropy as a truly integrated function of one’s business? How can giving be harnessed as a powerful transmitter of healthy family values? These and other topics will be addressed in future emails.

Strategic Philanthropy can mean the difference between throwing money around reactively and deriving real impact, meaning and joy in giving. But it’s a daunting process for busy families. TrustBridge Global serves you as your personal foundation staff – use our time and expertise to organize your giving and become more proactive Ultimately, it’s about giving on your own agenda, not the agenda of others – and TrustBridge is your guide and servant for your journey. Email or call me if you want to know more.

Bob Collins