For part of last week I attended a summit where we discussed philanthropic leadership in Higher Education where Donors from across the country gathered together to talk about lessons we have learned regarding charitable giving to Universities and to share successful programs that have been established at different Universities and how we can all work together to affect positive changes in higher education.
There is something fantastic about getting together at a summit or conference with people who are for the most part strangers when the summit starts, but because you all share a common objective and similar values fast friendships get formed and lasting bonds are created due to your shared passion for achieving a common goal. That was definitely my favorite part about these last few days, the people were tremendous and I made so many new friends that I feel very blessed to have as a part of my life going forward.
From an outside view, philanthropy seems like it would be such an easy thing – someone writes a check and gives away money – what’s difficult about that, right? Wrong. Because just writing a check and giving money to an entity, if that entity has a dysfunctional structure, is just giving that entity more money to spend on growing that dysfunction – it literally solves nothing, and I would argue that it can actually exacerbate the problem, making it even harder to fix later on because the resources have only grown it into a bigger mess. Which is why doing philanthropy effectively is no easy task.
People give money to a cause because they believe in, and desire to see, a specific outcome achieved with the money they are providing. That’s why before they write out a check they need to make sure that the institution they are giving their money to truly believes in the same cause and truly desires to see the same specific outcome. And figuring that out takes doing far more due diligence then one might think.
Diligence starts by doing the obvious things like getting to know the key stakeholders at the institution and making sure your values align and they support your vision. Then you have to learn the institutions structure in order to determine if their structure even allows for the opportunity to truly achieve the vision you are hoping to. Next you have to understand any levels of dysfunction and any politics that could prevent that dysfunction from getting fixed. Along with that takes getting to know the different individuals at the institution and understanding what different motivations are driving each of them. You you really have to know up front if the people involved can be motivated to help the project succeed, or if they will never agree to be on board because they have their own personal conflicting agenda.
Writing a check before you know those things is taking a major risk with your hard earned money that you now want to make a difference with. That’s why it’s so helpful to come together with other like-minded donors in an environment where you can all share best practices you’ve seen and lessons you’ve learned from past experiences. It’s also a great way to find others you can partner with on your charitable giving efforts. Working together you can each help shoulder the burden of ensuring your donations are able to accomplish your vision and create the legacy your heart desires.
~Amy Rees Anderson