All of us on the Board of Trustees at Adler University are actively involved with leading and supporting the University and its mission for advancing social justice. That includes taking an active role in advocating for support to the institution’s academic and community engagement programs.
Whatever organization you support, being an effective donor is no easy task. But striving to be one is paramount if you truly want to make a difference in your local community or the world. My firm, Strategic Philanthropy, Ltd. has had the great opportunity over the last 16 years to guide donors on a path to effective philanthropy that is both meaningful to them and to the organizations they support. Below are some pointers on becoming the donor that is a real partner in making change.
- Develop a mission statement, be clear about who you are as a donor; articulate what you are seeking to accomplish.
- Engender humility—donors are seldom the experts in the area(s) they fund. It’s important to remember that there is an asymmetrical relationship between donors and the organizations they fund. Be a partner and trust your beneficiary’s experience and expertise!
- Seek out thought leaders who know and understand the landscape within which you are funding – be it leaders from grassroots organizations fighting for immigrant rights or social justice academic settings, like Adler University, to understand the needs and where a private donor can make a difference.
- Once you have explored and learned, be transparent with organizations, family, friends and peers about what your giving interests are, what you hope to accomplish in the world. You’d be surprised how your passion can become contagious and may spur others on to join you in giving to the organizations you feel need support.
- Seek a proposal or a letter from the organization(s) that you may fund – be clear about what you need to assess their financial health and to make sure that an organizations’ 501(c)(3) status is in good standing. You also want to vet the organizational leadership, the quality and impact of their work as an organization and their reputation in the larger community of peers. Right size your application or proposal requirements, don’t request a 50-page proposal if you are planning to give an organization a small grant or contribution.
- Meet with the leadership of the organization and the program staff, conduct a site visit to see the facility, note the environment and the “energy” in the organization. Factor what you learn and see into your decision-making about to whom and for what purpose you will be making a contribution.
- When it comes time to make grant or contribution decisions, be responsive to what the organization states that they need – general operating support is the most needed in the non-profit community – don’t impose a type of contribution that is your desire and not theirs. Be creative together to find ways to provide support to the projects that capture your interest and to that which the organization most needs; e.g., consider making a portion of your contribution a match, helping the organization raise additional money from other donors.
- One time contributions are not great practice, stay in there for the long haul – change does not happen overnight and nonprofits desperately need stability. There are many ways to provide this. Look into a split lifetime and legacy gift to get your giving started now but with a plan to include the organization in your estate plan. You can also fund endowments and scholarships or support collaboration and research and development – money that is very hard to come by and so very needed.
- Make sure that your contribution provides mutual benefits- for you as the donor, for the organization and community it works with and on behalf of.
- Be clear about how you would like to be communicated with, whether that’s an annual letter that provides an update on activities, a meeting with scholarship recipients, or a written report that outlines how the organization fared with its stated goals. Many donors are very dissatisfied with how the organizations they support communicate with them – be sure that you have a mutual understanding.
Remember to also be curious, be an ongoing learner, don’t go it alone and have fun. At this time of great need and pain in our communities you stand to make a significant difference—be sure to make the most of it!
Finally, if you’re not familiar with Adler, I highly encourage you to learn more about supporting its important work. Reach out and learn more here.