Start-up guide for Philanthropists:
1) Finding a “mission” or “dream”

by Peter Cafferkey | Posted on 8 April 2016

Along with the ever-growing importance of philanthropy in the public consciousness, there is also a welcome message that philanthropy requires a strategic plan to be truly successful. Examples of major global Philanthropists looking to harness their philanthropy to affect major issues from Malaria to Modern Day Slavery in a strategic fashion reinforce the importance of a focused vision – even a mission or dream.

Unfortunately this can also prove an imposing barrier for some. I have spoken with a number of would-be philanthropists for whom a lack of clear mission has meant they are unable to take plunge for fear of not maximising their resources fully, or not being able to justify it in terms of a larger purpose.

The first thing we share with these would be philanthropists is the importance of realising that very few, if any, of these established Philanthropists started their giving with either a strategic plan or anywhere near the fully formed mission that they now claim to follow.

Most Philanthropists when faced with the wide choice of a world of many issues and challenges, went through two stages: defining wide areas of interest, and taking the plunge.

  • Whether through family geographical links, long-term interest areas or even just news items that have the power to anger, they defined wide areas of interest. Within these wide areas (examples included “India” or news of a disaster) the first steps of learning, researching and engaging can begin to confirm an interest in areas that intrigue.
  • The second step is just as vital and involves “doing”. No matter how small and no matter how scattered, they need to actually act – making that small leap and devoting relatively small amounts of resources in terms of their first donations or volunteering time.

The destination is actually less important than the act of doing. It is only through a mixture of learning and doing that Philanthropists are able to formalise and focus their work. In doing so they gain the opportunity to explore new areas, people and find the space that they feel is best for them and where they can have most impact.

Experts can provide research and networks. Philanthropists can meet with other Philanthropists, attend events and read. However, nothing is better than trying. Whilst it is important to ensure that you are, on a basic level, doing no harm, Philanthropists shouldn’t be afraid to try –a number of small donations to a range of organisations is all that it takes.

Rather than being seen as a waste of resources being deployed in a “non-strategic” manner, it should be embraced as an important part of a R&D or educational phase for the Philanthropist.

As well as learning about causes and organisations this process enables Philanthropists to learn about themselves and what they enjoy. All vital to helping you refine your giving as you go forwards and understand what you and others want to get from it.