Philanthropy did not go the way of the dodo bird during the 2007-2009 recession. What did happen is that people changed the way they made charitable donations. With everyone being more strategic about their finances, charitable giving also had to be considered more strategically. In essence, we went from an AND economy to an OR economy. People weren’t giving to this cause and that cause; they were giving to this cause or that cause. From my work as a professional fundraiser, I’ve seen evidence that this is changing. As the impact from the recession is becoming less and less prominent in our everyday lives, we’re moving back to an “and economy.” But what does that mean for charitable giving? No matter who you choose to give to, your gifts should be part of a strategic giving plan.
So what should your strategy be?
Diversify your giving portfolio
In my own blog posts, I have discussed the need to diversify your giving portfolio. Like with your investments, when you’re considering which organizations to support, spread your wealth around. Find the causes you’re most passionate about; how you find them might come from big life events, or small life moments. If you saw a life-changing play at the Stratford Festival, consider making a donation there; if you’re grateful for your university education, think about becoming a monthly donor to your alma mater; and if you read an article about the lack of drinkable water in developing nations, perhaps it’s time to support a cause like charity: water. Now you’ve supported the arts, education, and a non-profit organization that brings clean and safe drinking water to 20 countries.
There are other things to consider, too. Who needs your help most? This is often a tricky area to navigate. “Need” is a funny thing, because all organizations that are fundraising have some kind of need, and they can articulate and justify that need very well (that’s part of our job as fundraisers, after all). However, there are some things that can help you consider this notion, like government funding. A lot of government support goes to education and healthcare in Canada, so although there is still a great deal of need in those areas, it could be argued that they are doing a lot better than your average grassroots non-profit organization. Perhaps that’s something you ought to take into account as you decide where to give your precious charitable dollars. Maybe you’ll consider making a smaller donation to your local hospital and/or educational institution, and make your bigger stretch gift to a smaller organization that you feel has a greater need.
That all being said, I think the most important thing to consider when giving charitably is your passion. What are you passionate about? What experiences have you had that have lit you up from the inside out? Were you buzzing with energy and inspiration after that Stratford play? Or was it your 10-year university reunion that reminded you of how those four years were the best of your life? Maybe it was a video on the charity: water website that brought you to tears. Whatever it is – and it doesn’t have to be one thing – support it. I heard Canadian philanthropist James Fleck once say that philanthropy is balancing your passion and your resources. Find what your passions are, and dedicate some of your resources to them. That’s what philanthropy is all about.