Some people already have a fairly good idea as to where they’d like to direct their philanthropic giving. But given the wide array of social, scientific research, and environmental needs, many others find it difficult to decide on a specific area of grantmaking from their donor-advised fund.
Should you make grants to organizations that support researching new cures for childhood cancers? Perhaps you’re interested in supporting efforts to reduce debt levels for certain minorities; or, support an initiative to combat poverty in your city. Should you, instead, give to organizations, which provide disabled individuals with skills that allow them to support themselves and become more independent?
The needs are countless and you may find it very difficult to choose just one. Certainly, you could choose to support a number of various causes that interest you and move your heart. But this approach results in a sort of reactive type of giving. Alternatively, defining a clear focus for your philanthropic efforts empowers you to engage in strategic, targeted giving. This allows you and your family to address specific issues within a certain area of need; thus, making a meaningful and visible difference.
How to define the focus for your family fund
The first step to defining a clear focus for your family fund requires one key thing: active communication among members. Each member may have his or her own idea about what needs and causes will make the best candidates for funding. Many times, all of the causes seem equally worthy. In this case, try narrowing down each cause by placing them into broad categories. For example:
- Geography – local community, city, state, nation
- People – women, elderly, certain ethnic groups, children, disabled
- Issues – human rights, education, mental health, poverty, hunger, wildlife habitat erosion
Once in categories, it’s time to begin discussing the pros and cons of each in general and as they relate to your fund’s unique mission, values, and purpose. Discovering the right focus for your giving requires that members engage in meaningful discussion, conduct independent research into each choice, and keep an open mind with the end goal — effective and positive change in the world — in mind.
Ultimately the agreed-upon focus won’t be too narrow, which would diminish flexibility when it comes to giving decisions; nor, will it be too broad, which could stretch both your financial and non-monetary resources too thin across numerous areas of need.
You may end up significantly narrowing the areas of focus, but find it difficult to choose one out of a final three. One way to get around this involves dividing the annual giving into three separate chunks (they don’t have to be equal divisions) and appointing different family members to define the focus for each.
As time goes on, you and the other family members will develop a clearer vision as to which endeavors and charitable organizations provide effective help to their stated causes. Each year, you can refine your fund’s focus as members build relationships and gain a deeper knowledge around the associated needs. Grantmaking is not a native talent; it’s learned by doing. Equipped with experience and knowledge in an area, you’ll have a better grasp on selecting charities that reflect your agreed-upon priorities, values, and purpose. This focused, strategic approach allows you to actually see the difference your fund makes and how you are truly changing the world. Along the way you will discover strength, talents and social wisdom you never knew you had. And you will have fun doing it.