Good philanthropy is defined not by the size of the gift being made but by the impact it has. Given the breadth of philanthropic opportunities available, it is important to establish what you intend to accomplish and focus your giving and efforts; thus helping to avoid spreading your philanthropy so thinly that little impact is made.
Focusing requires you to be clear about your own values. Philanthropy will be far more rewarding both for you and your causes when it is shaped by your passions. Values may be qualities of being such as equality, integrity and justice, or a particular worldview such as believing in free trade and market driven solutions. Your values will greatly shape your behaviour and the way you will evaluate projects. Choosing your priorities is a value driven decision.
Next, you should consider what really matters to you. Some commentators have broken causes down into the following broad categories: people, problems, places, pathways and philosophies, which can help to narrow down your options. Alternatively, you may already have something specific in mind. Identifying the area you are most drawn to and bringing your passion to your philanthropy will help you engage and really make a difference.
Finally, you need to be clear about what you want to contribute. A financial contribution to allow others who share your values and concerns to control the impact may be the best option for you, or it may be that you want to get directly involved in the cause. It is vital to establish this from the outset. Many donors, having made a substantial gift, feel they should have a say in how a charity operates which can lead to conflict if this is not agreed at the start. If you have skills you wish to contribute in addition to your financial gift, make this clear from the beginning.
If contributing your skills along with your financial gift, you need to decide where in the mix your own inputs can be most effective and understand you will need to work in partnership with others to achieve maximum results. For your contribution to make a significant impact change is essential and it is important to recognise this requires input not only from the charity sector but also from business and government. For example, improving opportunities for disadvantaged young people in your own community would require local businesses to create employment opportunities and the local Education Authority to provide appropriate training. Your skills may be most effective in an entirely unexpected way and you should be prepared to be flexible to achieve results.
Giving is a very personal activity and people have many different motives for engaging. However clarity is vital - focusing on your own values, identifying the area you want to help and establishing what you want to contribute from the beginning are key to a successful personal philanthropy plan.