Guides to Giving

6 steps to help you get started in philanthropy

Public education, the rainforests, renewable energy: With so many important issues to consider, what should be your first steps as you start out in philanthropy?

To implement a strategic giving program, some philanthropists first choose to articulate their intentions in the form of a mission statement. Others identify priority issues that may be revised over time.

To craft your own framework, reflecting on six simple questions may help you illuminate your aspirations for change.

1. What’s your motivation?

It’s important to know your reasons for giving, to help you clarify your goals and engage others in your mission. If you can articulate your intentions to your family and external parties, they’ll be better prepared to help you implement your plan, now and in the future.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Our Private Bank clients have articulated a wide variety of goals, including “a desire to give back to a society that has afforded me great opportunities,” “to instill in others a love for the arts,” and “to provide educational opportunities to disadvantaged children.”

Consider these questions:

  • Why do you want to give? What motivates you to give now?
  • Do you have any life experiences that inspire you to give?
  • What do you want to achieve with your giving?

2. What are your values?

Philanthropy can be a powerful way to communicate and actualize your core beliefs. If you have a clear understanding of your values, you can more easily identify causes and organizations that share your vision. Values can include the spiritual or ethical tenets that guide your decision-making and your relationships.

Consider these questions:

  • How have your family, work, and life experiences shaped your values? How can your giving align with your values?
  • How would you like to be remembered? How does your legacy serve as an extension of your values?

3. What interests you?

Many laudable causes could benefit from your support. But focusing on just a few will help you be effective in your initial efforts. Research the successes and failures in supporting these causes, to identify where you might make a difference. Many causes are interconnected, and you may learn from others’ experiences and experts in the field.

Consider these questions:

  • Which issues interest you? Does a particular place, institution, or population resonate with you?
  • Which positive things do you see in your community or the larger world that you would like to encourage?
  • What upsets you about the world right now? What would you like to change?
  • What do you want to learn about?

4. What’s the context?

If you understand the issues you wish to affect and the players involved, you’ll be more informed in your decision-making and may get better results from your giving. Educating yourself about these issues may also help you build a network of peer philanthropists.

Consider these questions:

  • What is happening in your targeted area of interest?
  • What have you learned the most about your giving? Where could you learn more?
  • Who else is funding your areas of interest? Are there others you can join with? Are there gaps you can fill?
  • Are there any non-monetary resources, like your professional skills or networks, you might contribute?

5. Risk and decisions

Clearly define your risk tolerance, how you will decide among the myriad charitable options, and how much time you can realistically devote to your philanthropic efforts.

Some philanthropists follow their heart, acting based on what feels right and what they find compelling. Others make decisions based entirely on data and what will maximize their “social return on investment.”

Clarifying your strategy up front will help you identify your best options and ensure the organizations and causes you support meet your objectives.

Consider these questions:

  • How much time are you willing to commit to this work?
  • What role will family or staff play in decision-making?
  • Do you want to fund proven programs? Or will you take a risk to fund something innovative?
  • Do you want to see an immediate impact? Or are you comfortable pursuing changes that may demand a long commitment?

6. Local, global—or both?

Some philanthropists want to have a local impact; others may find giving internationally more compelling. If you have strong feelings about which communities should benefit from your giving, articulate those preferences at the start.

Consider these questions:

  • Do you want to make a difference globally, nationally, or in your local community?
  • Are there geographic limits to where you want to apply your funding?
  • Do geographic dynamics matter to you—such as prioritizing rural groups or urban communities? Would you rather support people in developing countries or in more developed nations?
  • Are you comfortable not being able to assess the project firsthand? If not, are you willing to travel to the location you hope to support?

Reflecting on what matters most to you will help make your philanthropy an expression of who you are, what you believe, and how those unique qualities can improve the lives of others.

To learn more about how you can optimize your giving strategy, please contact your J.P. Morgan advisor.

This article is filed under:
Connect with us
We look forward to speaking with you about how we can put our local experience and global reach to work for you