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Harnessing the “Why” behind
meaningful philanthropy.



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The world seems to be on fire, so where do I even start helping and how do I make sure my contribution is not just a drop in the ocean?

The first step to answering this question that beginning philanthropists and those wanting to accelerate their philanthropic impact can ask themselves lies in reflecting on the “why” or the purpose of their philanthropic aspirations.

Charitable giving has evolved from an option into an expectation for wealthy individuals and profitable businesses alike. As Ford Foundation President Darren Walker wisely observes in Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors upcoming book on Reimagining Philanthropy, “countless major institutions, from universities to hospitals and museums, rely on private donors to keep the doors open and to provide what we have come to regard as essential public goods and services. Indeed, the philanthropic sector is more diverse, more robust, more ubiquitous than at any point in its history."

For some people, contributing can be as easy as a one-time donation with a quick click of a button. But for those seeking to make meaningful, lasting change, it is crucial to identify and articulate the underlying motivations—the "why"—of your giving. It might be restoring a healthy planet for future generations. Perhaps it’s finding a cure for a disease that has claimed a loved one. It can be educating the next generation of scientists. By leading with your motivations, you can crystallize a philanthropic plan of action that yields maximum impact.

These motivations may include an intrinsic sense of responsibility to steward your wealth well, honoring the memory and legacy of predecessors, a sense of urgency around the pressing challenges our world faces, addressing injustices, or even responding to consumer demand.

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As an added benefit, the ideas generated in conversations about motivations serve as valuable touchstones when making decisions about your philanthropy’s organizational structure (should you start a foundation?), focus areas, whether to collaborate, strategy, governance models, and grantee partner selection. For example, some people are motivated to give because it can serve as a tool for family unity and a way to coalesce around shared interests and passions. If this is you, these conversations may involve developing a process that engages with your family in a meaningful and productive way, taking all perspectives into account.

A clear understanding of motivations and vision also empowers philanthropists to maintain a laser-like focus in philanthropy. Choose strategies, focus on specific issues, and collaborate with partners who share your passion and strengthen the work. Achieving lasting impact takes time, and unexpected challenges may arise along the way. By staying connected to your motivations, you can adapt and address these challenges, maintaining your commitment to the causes you believe in.

As you embark on your philanthropic journey, taking the time to explore your motivations is crucial to effectively putting your capital work to benefit others. Understanding the "why" behind your giving unlocks the power of purpose and enables you to make a meaningful impact. Engage in conversations with trusted advisors, friends, and family to deepen your understanding and align your philanthropic efforts. Remember these fundamental questions: Where have you found fulfillment? Who has inspired you? Where can you learn more?

By seeking answers to these questions, you lay a strong foundation for philanthropic endeavors that enrich lives, bring personal fulfillment, and create transformative change for the causes and communities that matter to you.

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