No More ‘Checkbook Philanthropy’! Get Passionate About Your Giving

No More ‘Checkbook Philanthropy’! Get Passionate About Your Giving

Although most people want to align their philanthropic efforts with their personal passions, very few individuals actually do. That’s a mistake, according to the experts – but it’s one that can be remedied.

“Often in philanthropy, people give because a friend asked or because they attended a social event,” says Eric Weinheimer, CEO of Donors Forum.

Robert Nordin, philanthropic specialist at Wells Fargo Private Bank, calls that “checkbook philanthropy,” which he says is more reactive, as if people are responding to a tap on the shoulder, and not necessarily giving because of internal reasons. He says many people aren’t sure what their passions are or how to align their giving with them. Figuring out those answers, however, can make all the difference.

“It’s better to give to something that makes you feel really good, rather than being guilted into a gift,” he says. “I think that philanthropy is ultimately an emotional act. Giving in the areas that make you emotional and evoke your passion – that’s where the goose bumps are.”

Gillian Howell, a national philanthropic solutions executive at U.S. Trust, Bank of America’s private bank, agrees. “Values are our guide stars that shape the choices,” she says. “The most satisfying philanthropy is based on those deeply-held beliefs.”

Experts use a variety of strategies to help people identify their passions and then align their philanthropy with them, and they can be helpful to all families looking to give. “We believe that anyone can be a philanthropist, no matter how old or young someone is, or how wealthy they are. It’s about supporting issues you care about,” says Melanie Schnoll Begun, head of philanthropy management at Morgan Stanley.

Here are a few strategies to help to pinpoint your passion.

Start with a conversation around the dinner table.

Many people are not giving individually, but rather doing so as a family. Simply talking about the values you all hold dear is a good first step.

“Identifying what’s most important is revealing and rewarding in and of itself, especially when done as a family,” says Howell. “Those conversations are enlightening and meaningful.” The results of those conversations can act as a “philanthropic compass” to guide your giving. Discussing values and philanthropy will also teach younger generations to act from their heart, both now and in the future.

Be honest with yourself, your family and your professional advisors.

When having those conversations, stay true to yourself. “A client’s candor and transparency allows us in the discovery process to really understand what motivates them to give, and that helps us determine the direction that we can point them in for giving strategically,” says Schnoll Begun. Don’t hesitate to lay all your feelings on the table. “You might be shocked to hear what some of our clients tell us,” she says.

Go with your gut.

One way that Wells Fargo helps clients identify their passions is by hosting small philanthropic salons, where they show attendees 30 or 40 images and ask them to select the three to which they had the biggest emotional response.

Nordin says that an individual’s visceral reaction is often a good guide: “People who follow their emotions and passions are more satisfied givers.”

That also means not worrying about what the Joneses are doing philanthropically. “When you do something personal and deeply meaningful, regardless of what others are doing, your gift will be more valuable, not only to organization but also to you as the investor and philanthropist,” says Weinheimer.

Have an end goal in mind.

The experts agree that knowing what outcomes the donor hopes to see can help pinpoint passions and identify the best charity within that area. Donors Forum is planning to launch ILGive, a website that will allow users to search for charities based on area of interest. Knowing your ultimate goal can help you select the right charity when you use tools like ILGive.

Donors also should not hesitate to seek outside help in developing the best strategy for giving. “I see philanthropy as being like a big room with many doors,” Howell says. “We help people find the right door.”


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