Your Philanthropy Roadmap

Giving away money is simple. Giving away money effectively is an entirely different matter.

Our goal at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors is to help donors -- individuals, families, trusts and foundations -- create thoughtful, effective giving programs. Those programs can focus on local community issues, global concerns, or anything in between.

We view the process of developing a giving program as a journey, and like any journey, it will be greatly aided by a map. In this case, your roadmap is a plan for the philanthropic advisor who both follows your cues and acts as a guide, helping you to reach a destination you both agree upon. Before charting your course, though, you first need to answer a few fundamental questions.


1. What internal forces drive you to give?

  • Heritage: consideration of the areas or causes your family has always supported;
  • Legacy: planning how you’d like to be remembered; or,
  • Values: setting an example for the younger generations of your family.

Understanding your giving motives helps you make choices by clarifying what’s most important to you: causes you grew up with and remain connected to; issues that represent what you stand for and who you are; or projects around which your whole family can rally.

Next, you should explore the affiliations and causes that interest you, and the goals you want to achieve for each.


2. What external issues tug at both your heart and your head?

There are plenty to choose from. Use the following categories to help map out those that resonate with you:

  • Big problems: poverty, disease, climate change
  • Specific challenges: literacy, Parkinson’s
  • Places: Montana, Appalachia, Afghanistan
  • People: artists, children, refugees, innovators
  • Institutions: schools, museums, ballet companies

Once you have a sense of the issues important to you, you can begin separating the good causes that just aren’t yours, and you can explain clearly to yourself and others where your giving is directed.


3. How do you want the change to happen?

There are many worthy nonprofits that address literacy issues: some run tutoring programs in local community centers; others partner with school systems or social service agencies; still others try to figure out the best techniques to teach adults; and then there are groups that exist solely to advocate for funding. It is important to consider how an organization tries to solve a problem, not just which problem it tries to solve.

Each of the following types of nonprofits has a distinct approach:

  • Grassroots groups: small, tight focus, on the ground, person-to-person, very local;
  • Major community institution: big presence, wide range of activities, broad base of support, deep relationships and history;
  • National organizations: flagship players, extensive network, high visibility, deep capacity for research or advocacy.

At this point it is important to discuss with your philanthropic advisor how diversified your philanthropy portfolio should be. Your advisor will work with you to ensure that you allocate funds in a manner that keeps with your stated goals. By doing so, you will not risk diluting your gifts, nor will you miss a worthy organization that could greatly benefit from your funding.

This stage is also a good time to explore broadening the geographic reach of your giving. If your original plan was to tackle literacy, over time you may become interested in taking alternate routes to solving the problem. This could include expanding access to English classes for new arrivals in the United States, or helping people in other countries learn to read in their native languages.


4. How do you want to get involved?

You’ll need to decide how to invest your time as well as your money. Think about these options:

  • Number of gifts: one large gift, or 100 over time;
  • Type of gifts: general support, specific projects, or challenge grants;
  • Level of involvement: anonymous giving, project work, lending professional expertise, fundraising, or board service;
  • Measuring impact: general feedback on the groups you're funding, periodic progress updates, or more frequent project reports.

It’s important to remember that there’s no right or wrong level of giving or involvement. Some people like to diversify and spread the wealth around, while others like to make big bets. Some want to spend their time where they give their money, but others prefer to stay in the background.


What’s Next?

At this point, you and your philanthropic advisor will have framed out a plan for your giving. The only thing left to do is choose which organizations to fund. Your advisor will closely examine crucial parameters of each potential beneficiary organization. These include the organization’s size, maturity, experience and track record, its donor base, fiscal stability, and its leadership and management. Only those that meet legal, financial and ethical guidelines will be among the group from which you’ll make your selections.

Once you’ve made your choices, we recommend that you discuss them with your family, so they will understand how you reached your decisions. It’s a great lesson for kids to understand what motivates you to give and hear how you chose among a number of good causes.

It’s also important to inform the nonprofits of your decision as soon as possible. This applies to those that you will support as well as to those that have received your support in the past but no longer fit your giving plan. The sooner a nonprofit knows what is or isn't coming, the sooner it can adjust accordingly. Similarly, talk to other givers about great groups that for whatever reason you might not be able to continue supporting. See if you can get word about their work to people for whom they’d be a perfect fit.

Making a roadmap requires work, but when you’re done you will find that you have gone far beyond detailing a plan for your money. You will have created a living document that will evolve with your giving interests and abilities for many years to come, and be both a launching pad and an anchor for future generations as they follow your example.

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