Defining Your Philanthropic Strategy

By opening a donor-advised fund (DAF), you’ve made an important commitment to charitable giving. DAF donors like you provide generous and regular funding to organizations making a difference in their communities and around the world. Your new DAF will help you support the organizations and causes that are most important to you.

 

Giving Strategically

Once you’ve opened and funded your DAF, you can recommend grants right away—but you may also want to take some time first to think about your personal philanthropic strategy. The suggestions below can help you reflect on the difference you want to make and develop your giving strategy.

You can also download these tips here:

1. Set an aspirational budget

Create a budget for the coming year and a plan for how you’d like your giving to ramp up over time—say the next three, five, or ten years, depending on your goals.

For the coming year, divide your giving into three buckets and assign an aspirational budget to each:

1. The causes you are personally committed to supporting

2. Responses to asks from family, friends and colleagues

3. Responses to the unexpected

 

Each December or January, review your annual giving to see how close you were to your targets. (If you give with NPT, you can click on your grant activity in GivingPoint to see all your giving for the year in one dashboard.)

  • If you didn’t meet your target, reflect on why. What would you like to adjust in the coming year?
  • Put a note on your calendar to give to one or two of your favorite nonprofits twice a year, quarterly, or even monthly. Don’t save all your giving for the end of the year.
2. Zero in on a few causes that resonate for you

There is no end to the important causes you could support. That fact can be overwhelming. Take it one step at a time. For now, you can have more impact if you zero in on just a few causes to start.

Take some time to reflect on the questions below. If you give with your family, have a dinner table conversation and ask these questions of each other. You can formalize your priorities in a DAF mission statement later, if you choose.

  • What would you most like to see change in the world?
  • Are there things that have impacted you or your family personally that you’d like to do something about?
  • Are there issues that don’t touch your life personally but that you are motivated to support or change?
  • How important is it to you to see the impact of your giving in your lifetime or immediate surroundings?
3. Impact: Where and for whom?

Think about whether there are particular places you’d like your funding to support. Your hometown or birthplace? Somewhere you’ve traveled? Or somewhere you’ve never been but, nonetheless, feel called to help?

Is there a particular group of people you most want to serve? Children under age five? Teens and young adults? People living with substance use disorders? Veterans? People returning from incarceration? People living in a specific community or facing a particular health challenge?

4. Explore organizations at the intersection of your causes and the people and places you’d like to reach

Have you found organizations that address the what, who and where of your charitable priorities? If not, do some research to see which organizations like-minded donors support.

  • Many foundations have searchable grantmaking databases on their websites.
  • Community foundations are a great resource for locally-focused giving. Don’t overlook smaller, community-based nonprofit organizations in favor of well-known or national organizations. While both have advantages, smaller organizations also often have smaller budgets, which means that your gift may go farther for them.
  • Remember to seek out organizations with leadership from the communities they serve. Organizations led by people of color are often underfunded and undercapitalized compared to those led by their white peers, but leaders with lived experience in the community the organization serves are often better equipped to bring practical solutions to the table.
  • Read through organizations’ websites and publications. How do they talk about their work and impact? What have they accomplished to date and what do they plan to accomplish in the future with more funding?
  • Websites like Candid’s GuideStar and Charity Navigator can provide even more detail on nonprofit organizations.
5. Start recommending some grants and see what you learn

There’s no better way to learn than by doing. You don’t need to have every detail of your philanthropic approach mapped out before you start recommending grants; in fact, making a few grants and learning from them can help you hone your strategy. Here are some considerations to support that learning:

  • Read reports and updates that come from your grantees. If you can, attend their events. You’ll learn more about their work and the issues they are trying to solve for. You may also learn about other organizations that work on the same issues.
  • Reflect on what you’re learning and what’s resonating for you. If the impact doesn’t feel like what you set out to achieve, reflect on why. Maybe the organization’s goals don’t really mesh with yours. Maybe your goals were overly ambitious and now you understand the context better. Don’t worry if your first grants didn’t feel exactly right; your giving is sure to evolve over time. You can use this learning to further target your giving.

Related Resources

Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society Workbooks

An introduction to giving effectively.
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Organize your philanthropy.
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NPT’s Blog

The Philanthropist blog from NPT provides expert advice on what’s trending in philanthropy, why it matters and how NPT brings it all together. Here are some popular posts related to the topic of philanthropic strategy:

 

Get in Touch

If you’re interested in further deepening your philanthropic engagement, or want to access philanthropic expertise, the Philanthropic Services Team at NPT can support you with customized research and guidance.

All fees for consulting services are payable directly from your donor-advised fund. Please contact the Philanthropic Services Team for further details at philanthropicservices@nptrust.org or (888) 878-7900.