How to focus your philanthropic activities for maximum impact
If you’re starting your journey toward philanthropic giving, either because you’re launching something new or because you’ve inherited a role in a family foundation, all of the options for charitable contributions can feel overwhelming. From environmental causes to poverty relief—and everything in between—the options are endless. Rather than trying to help every good cause, it makes sense to hone in on specific areas to maximize your impact.
“When our clients come to us wanting to start their philanthropic journeys, we help them focus on creating a mission statement,” explains Whittier Trust Client Advisor for Philanthropic Services Amanda Buntmann. “It helps bring everyone together around the same issue area. It’s a key step to figure out what everyone cares about and what's most important to them.” Sometimes that’s easier said than done, since many causes might pull on your heartstrings. Here are some ways to get started.
Identify Your Highest Values
There are an almost endless array of values most of us aspire to, and the things that we care most about may change and evolve over time. Often, Buntmann and her team will share a deck of cards with more than 75 values—such as innovation, integrity, courage, freedom, dignity and much more—to help clients cultivate their plan.
Take heart: It’s not uncommon that family members disagree on at least some of the specific focus areas but most can find a few core values that define and motivate them. Once these values are identified, choosing focus areas and grantmaking philosophies becomes easier.
What Motivates You?
The National Center for Family Philanthropy put together a helpful Philanthropic Purpose Primer, designed to ask questions that spark ideas for developing a charitable giving focus. Buntmann and her team often talk through some of these questions to help understand what philanthropic causes make clients tick. Some questions are:
- What motivates me to be generous? Why do I care?
- Who were my role models for generosity when I was young? What did I learn from them?
- What life experiences have inspired my philanthropy?
- What am I grateful for now?
- What is my definition of wealth with responsibility? What is the purpose of our wealth?
- Beyond money, are there other resources I have given or could give?
- How would I like to be remembered?
Trying to identify an area of focus for your charitable contributions alone can feel overwhelming. That’s why hands-on help from a team of experts can be invaluable. When a new client comes to Whittier Trust, the team spends time getting to know them and asking questions about their lives and interests.
For example, one client, Vanessa, expressed interest in animal welfare. But when Buntmann went to lunch with her and her Whittier client advisor, she asked Vanessa about her favorite pastimes, and her eyes lit up as she talked about her love of reading and her sprawling home library filled with books. Her passion for reading and literacy prompted Buntmann to set up a site visit with a local nonprofit dedicated to building libraries in lower-income communities. “The library wasn't open yet, but local kids were coming to see it. The joy on their faces prompted Vanessa to pursue the goal of funding a library herself,” Buntmann says, which allowed her client to make a meaningful contribution to a community in her home city. While she’s supporting other causes as well, this is the one that pulls on her heartstrings. “Working in private philanthropy services, you have to keep digging and get to know people to understand what they're passionate about,” Buntmann adds.
Once you’ve identified your values and the causes that motivate your philanthropic endeavors, it’s important to establish procedures and guidelines to streamline the process. The philanthropy services team at Whittier Trust can provide the strategy and support to help you get there. That may involve engaging other departments at Whittier Trust to implement tax efficient investing or other wealth management services to maximize your legacy and reach. Regardless of your goals, you’ll always have a team around you that is wholly committed to helping you achieve them.