Three Pillars of Personalized Philanthropy

[We are pleased to introduce the final article in the series written as a companion to the book by Steven L Meyers, Personalized Philanthropy: Crash the Fundraising Matrix and Make the Real Shift to Donor-Focused Giving. While that book was written primarily for gift officers and professional advisors, these articles are written to share with donors – hopefully to begin a new conversation about philanthropy with clients/donors who ardently wish to support their most treasured charities. The articles aim to introduce some of the basic concepts of Personalized Philanthropy, a powerful new and tested model for charitable planning which challenges conventional fundraising practices in bridging current and future giving so that donor impact and recognition may begin immediately and scale up over time.]


Why isn't all phil personalized

Three Pillars of Personalized Philanthropy

  • What are the lessons donors can teach us about personalized philanthropy
  • What questions can we consider when approaching our gift?
  • How does the Passover story of the 4 children relate to philanthropy?

Hopefully, this series about the Four Donors will raise as many questions as it answers, and then some. To provide some insight into my own thinking and the questions I’ve asked, here are three lessons that I have learned from the donors referenced. I think you will find that these lessons permeate all of the examples and help to inform the shaping and design of each of the gift plans, matched to the interests of the individual donors and to the compelling needs of the organizations they care about. To me these questions and insights point to better ways to do Effective Philanthropy, powered by Personalized Gift Design.

Message in a Bottle: Three Keys to Effective Personalized Philanthropy
(For any soulful season of giving)

I like to think about the Three Keys as if it were a forgotten fragment – a message in a bottle – written by a philanthropist long ago. It was sent (floated) by the author in the hope it would be found by the People Who Want to Make a Plan, but too often have come up against the crush of reality: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” (John Lennon). “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face” (Mike Tyson). Whether you are a philanthropist or a fundraiser, this message resonates for people seeking to understand and act on their charitable impulse. This message in a bottle seems relevant all year long, at any soulful season of giving.

Imagine that you found the bottle and read this message.

  1. Give with a warm hand – My friend said it was better to give with a warm hand than a cold one. She meant it, and did it. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase from Warren Buffett, “Giving While Living.” Giving with a warm hand is the Big Idea behind that. It also shapes the Giving Pledge, which has encouraged so many philanthropists to designate at least half of their estates for helping others. So, if you feel charitable, it’s up to you to decide what you want to happen with your gift. Go ahead and make your statement. You do not have to defer or leave this important life-defining decision to someone else.
  2. Give with a warm heart – Besides giving while living, you can give as you live, with passion and a warm heart. Share that. To something meaningful to you. Start now. Aim high. Scale-up and go long. Make a habit of giving. You can achieve much more by combining current with future gifts for something important to you. Most charities will allow you to target or restrict your gift. The really enlightened ones encourage it. You can start with something do-able now and yet grow the impact of your support with each additional gift.
  3. Give with a cool head – Give smart. Not just from your heart. Employ the powerful tools of personalized philanthropy and smart advisors who can show you how. It’s possible and even OK to benefit your loved ones and yourself from your giving. Bequests, charitable trusts, gift annuities, charitable insurance and retirement plans. Especially bequests. Find out about virtual endowments and how to build equity in your endowment. This way, you can create a lasting legacy, and it can begin now.

They say this is how philanthropy used to be done. This is how it will be done in the future.

A Few Thought Questions

  • Would you give with a “warm hand” if you could? If you consider giving with a warm hand to mean not only giving while alive, but directing and designating the use of your future gifts, does that way of thinking open up the possibilities for you to give more or give differently? Do you believe that your legacy should be decided by someone else; if not you, who?
  • When one thinks of meeting a donor “where they are,” where would you think of yourself on the spectrum? In the range and capacity from wise (Astute) – wicked (Questioning) – simple (Curious) – doesn’t know how to ask (Searching), where are you? Are you always in the same place or is there a variance from time to time? If you are giving away your treasure, what should you expect to gain from your gifts?
  • Do you expect a financial return, a spiritual redemption, or other sense of ROI of “impact” and change? If you could, would you like to have more personal and interactive relationship with representatives of the organization or cause whose programs and projects will ultimately benefit from your support and generosity? Would you like to gain access to special people?
  • Do these personalized giving techniques help you see new ways to give? Endowment is a very specific investment and management concept to nonprofit administrators. But, to you as a donor it may mean simply ensuring that a goal will continue to be met long into the future. Which is most important to you, the investment of the endowment or the use of the funds to achieve a goal? How do you set the balance?
  • Does it seem reasonable and possible to borrow familiar concepts from the rest of your life (say, the idea of a mortgage) and import them into philanthropy? Have you encountered charitable organizations that allow you to “build equity” in your endowment while also have it work at full capacity, as in these examples? If not, are you willing and able to lead the way and show them how? Sometimes donors go from “one who does not know how to ask” to one who leads.
  • Can you see how some of the basic building blocks of philanthropy – the seemingly modest outright gifts you make ever year, for example – could become the basis of a much more powerful gift later on? Have you thought about making a commitment over multiple years, instead of one year at a time, and what that could mean to an institution you care about?
  • If you decided to lead with your annual gifts (and turn a traditional endowment on its head), how could your ultimate gift have even greater impact than if you used those modest gifts to grow an endowment?
  • Using personalized philanthropy, how might you reconfigure your own approaches to giving to achieve greater impact and recognition, starting now?