Giving Strategically: The Secret to Being an Effective Philanthropist

Being an effective philanthropist goes far beyond handing over a cheque, we need to give strategically. To truly make an impact with your giving spirit, strategic and goal-driven giving is vital. What does it mean to be a successful philanthropist and how can you ensure your philanthropic efforts leave their mark?

At the core of a successful philanthropist is the right attitude, which money can not buy. “Philanthropic work is a lifetime labour of love,” says National Chairman of the Israeli-American Council, Adam Milstein.

“Philanthropy should not feel like work,” he believes. “If you do what you love and love what you do, you’ll get satisfaction out of your [philanthropic] endeavours and feel motivated to do even more.”

Milstein recommends that budding philanthropists channel their passion into focused pathways. “Instead of dedicating partial attention to many different causes, it’s important to identify the issues that you feel most passionate about and focus your attention there,” he says. “By developing a lifelong relationship [with an organisation], you allow them to focus on the work they do best instead of having to dedicate all their time and energy to fundraising.”

Active philanthropy in South Africa is a vital component of successful philanthropy which involves strategic thinking. “The best philanthropists do more than write a cheque and move on,” says Milstein. “They roll up their sleeves and contribute their time, talent, connections and expertise to actively advance the non-profit’s mission.”

When South African philanthropists make the well-meaning mistake of merely donating funds and moving on, they fail to appreciate the central issues of the problems they are trying to alleviate. The Solidarity by Shaherazad programme, which uses funds raised by shoe sales to support the wellbeing of females living in poverty, argues that “effective philanthropists [look] for the root cause of the issue that they are looking to fix.” The programme adds that a wise philanthropist might also choose to support programmes that are already targeting the root causes of social issues, for example, strategic education campaigns to reduce risky behaviour amongst teens in South Africa.

William Foster, lead investigator for a research project called Most Promising Bets for Social Change, says that a good philanthropist knows where their role begins and ends and recognises his or her own limitations when it comes to contributing positively to a cause.

“Philanthropists [should] stick to areas where they bring unique skills or relationships and not try to claim expertise they do not have,” says Foster. He adds that a successful philanthropist is also humble enough to heed advice from their beneficiaries and follow the lead of beneficiaries who are more experienced in their respective fields.

Essentially, philanthropy is not an exact science and learning how to be a successful philanthropist can be a process of trial and error, but the effort is always worth it. In the words of Milstein: “Every organisation is different; every cause is unique. By finding something you love, staying focused, and getting involved, you can make a bigger impact here in South Africa than you could ever imagine.”

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