by
Senior Philanthropic Specialist

Key points to consider:

  • As individuals, we can all engage in philanthropy as philanthropy begins with a belief that we can help make a difference or make a change.
  • Many individuals engage in checkbook philanthropy, where they simply write checks as a matter of practice to various charities on an annual basis. While this practice is highly laudable and provides huge value to a large number of charities, we also believe that getting intentional about your giving may offer additional benefits.
  • With intentional giving, your goals drive the discussion and help to connect your philanthropic motivations with actionable strategies.

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As individuals, we can all engage in philanthropy. We can. I emphasize the words "we can" as philanthropy begins with belief—the belief that we can help make a difference or make a change. Of course, there are countless differences by which individuals can engage in philanthropy, either measured by amount or scale or perhaps by approach or method. The nuances as to the "how" of philanthropy are endless and while philanthropy is highly personal, the choices available are often far too many. For purposes of this discussion, we will operate on the premise that our reader has sufficient resources (presumably financial but this could include resources such as expertise or time) to commit to charitable endeavors either during his or her lifetime and/or at death.

Checkbook philanthropy is often defined as the practice of "giving without thinking" or simply writing checks as a matter of practice to various charities on an annual basis. The notion of checkbook philanthropy is often described with parallel terms such as "peanut butter" or "splatter" philanthropy, meaning that the philanthropist is spreading or giving evenly across a bunch of charities or just dropping random checks in a haphazard way. Fundraisers have learned to cater to the habits of checkbook philanthropists as evidenced by regular mailings and email blasts. Fundraisers know that there are many individuals out there who may wait until the end of the year to conduct their charitable giving, which involves sifting through a pile of annual appeals and sending donations in a reactive way.

To be critical of checkbook philanthropy is somewhat unfair though, as again, philanthropy is highly personal and may serve as an engaging activity for some. Furthermore, we should be wary of being dismissive of a practice that provides huge value to a large number of charities. Many charities rely heavily upon the annual relatively small donations they receive from thousands of donors, as these add up and can be the cornerstone of a charitable organization's budget.

So, philanthropists hold power and influence. As such, it's important that philanthropists are armed with adequate information and tools so they can make choices that make optimal sense for them. In the interest of helping philanthropists better achieve their goals, we may suggest an alternative to checkbook philanthropy which we call "intentional giving". We believe that getting intentional about your philanthropy may give you a sense of purpose, and help serve as a constant motivational reminder of what you are working toward. With intentional giving, your goals drive the discussion and help to connect your philanthropic motivations with actionable strategies.

Characteristics of intentional giving may include:

  • Engaging in a thorough process that begins with a vision.
  • Thinking about the impact you want and expect your giving to make.
  • Identifying a problem and evaluating approaches to attack the problem.
  • Employing research. Especially with the tools that technology currently offers, there are many ways to gather information about charitable organizations including tax returns, financials and data on results.
  • Catering to passion vs. giving per familial obligation.
  • Strategic planning – collaborating with advisors to look for efficiencies in the context of your broader tax and estate plans.
  • Thinking outside the box, such as gifting unique or alternative assets.

We believe that an intentional giving approach can help you get clarity around your philanthropic motivations, your goals and vision for the future, how you define success, and determine next steps for putting your ideas into action. It's important to consider the following four questions to assess your philanthropic objectives:

  1. Consider your values and vision for the future. What's important to you and your family?
  2. Conduct a giving review. How are your charitable gifts aligned with your values and priorities?
  3. Evaluate resources. What assets or other resources are most appropriate to support your philanthropic objectives?
  4. Set strategies. What charitable vehicles are most appropriate to accomplish your giving, wealth, and estate planning objectives? And how can your giving create the impact you want to see?

A well-thought out giving plan lets you know that the legacy you leave behind matches your values. It can help you articulate your mission and lay out a roadmap for future gifts. Talk to us about how we can help you put an intentional giving plan together.