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5 make-or-break points for successful philanthropy

Treat your charity like it's a business
  • Whomever you give to should be worthy of receiving; do your due diligence.
  • It's crucial to regularly assess the impact of your philanthropy.
  • Treat your philanthropic activities as you would treat a new business venture.

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Reposted with permission from JanzenCo.


Without having any claim to completeness, I have found a number of things to be important to the success of philanthropy.

This list of key points resembles a list that could be drawn up for any business venture — and that is one of the key conclusions I have come to: Treat your philanthropic activities as you would treat a business venture!

Each of the key points listed below needs to be expanded on, but the concise list should provide a good starting point for any ambitious philanthropist.

1. Have a (written) strategy

As with most things, a strategy is a good starting point.

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Think about what it is that you want to change in this world and how you can best contribute to achieving it. This will also allow you to go back and review your strategy based on how you compare to your goals (also see point No. 2 below).

Putting a strategy on paper forms the basis for accountability and the ability to measure progress.

2. Regularly review your position and strategy

Based on the premise that “what gets measured gets done,” review your progress and achievements compared to your original strategy and aims.

This revolving review keeps you on track and helps to improve your strategy on the basis of learnings from your practically gained experience.

3. Perform thorough due diligence on your recipients

Whomever you give to should be worthy of receiving. This also comes back to your goals and helps you make sure you stay on track to achieve maximum actual impact.

Whoever receives from you should directly or indirectly help you to come closer to your goals. To make sure you use your philanthropic funds effectively, you need to make sure their goals are in line with yours and that they actually do what they say.

4. Perform thorough due diligence on your partners

As with your recipients, the same principles apply to your partners.

Even more so, they need to be aligned with your goals so that during the course of your ventures, friction from differing objectives does not counteract against your goals.

After all, the main point of working with partners is to leverage them. However, leverage works in positive and negative directions, so make sure your partners are in line and are who they say they are.

5. Regularly assess potential and achieved impact

As under No. 2, the principle of “what gets measured gets done” applies, but with a slightly different angle.

Try and put assessed and achieved impact into measurable benchmarks. This can be tricky because in philanthropy, goals are not always easily measurable.

It is worth giving a try, though, because it makes it easier to track and celebrate success or to amend and adjust your strategy if you discover that your strategy does not really work.

Sometimes it helps to work with proxy measures if you cannot find a direct measure of success (for example, the number of people treated versus the number of people cured from addiction if you cannot reliably get access to the actual data).

The assessment part is really about finding and tracking sensible KPIs (key performance indicators).

However, also be aware that KPIs only tell part of the story and the qualitative assessment is at least as important.

Sascha Janzen is a seasoned real estate professional with 20 years experience in asset management, underwriting and transaction management based in Frankfurt, Germany. He publishes his own blog.