Pathway to Philanthropic Success
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Pathway to Philanthropic Success

Successful philanthropy achieves a great out come for all concerned: the direct beneficiaries, the wider community and to you, the philanthropist.

Achieving that outcome should come from your values and beliefs and start out with a clear understanding of your goal - what is the change you want to see? Often this is the hardest part for even the most experienced philanthropist, since goals may start off as undefined, broad and ambitious. It may feel as though the resources available are dwarfed by the scale of the problem. Fortunately, with skill and experience even the most daunting issue can be broken down into manageable and most importantly achievable goals that match the donor's resource commitment. The key to success lies in setting your goal and understanding how change happens.

Setting your goal and understanding what success will mean to you

Motivations for giving can vary enormously; sometimes overseas travel prompts a concern about child poverty, or access to education in a city or region. In other cases personal experience, either of social problems in a particular neighbourhood or medical concerns might provide the motivation. Learning more about the issue and getting an understanding of where the energy of others is focussed can help move from a broad aspiration to a realistic goal. An idea that might start off as 'improve access to housing in Liverpool' might , through learning more about housing services already operational in the area become 'establish a small housing co-operative that addresses the needs of those currently vulnerably housed'. Understanding what success would mean in this instance might be: 'In approx five years the co-operative becomes financially self sustaining (after initial capital provision) and continues to meet the needs of the chronically vulnerable in the housing market.'

How Change Happens

Different challenges need different approaches, often the same challenge will need different approaches at different times. Once you know exactly what it is you are trying to address then a theory of change can help. A theory of change (ToC) is a pathway to achieving your stated outcome and maps out how different actions will contribute to the intended outcome. ToCs help illuminate what will really make a difference.

For example, a fully worked ToC for a donor aiming to reduce ivory poaching in a particular African national park might show that:

  • The necessary increase in warden numbers and resources to improve their park coverage is unrealistic and would be an inefficient use of funding.
  • Almost all of the demand for ivory originates from China, increasing affluence and a surge in popularity of 'traditional' medicines is driving the rate of poaching up rapidly. Reducing demand is therefore the most effective way to achieve the stated goal.
  • Demand reduction requires a change in public opinion, tighter import controls and a renewed commitment from the Chinese government to international agreements to protect wildlife.
  • Influencing public opinion requires a marketing campaign. Improving Chinese import controls and requires advocacy through international institutions.

The donor might well be surprised to find themselves supporting a Washington DC based advocacy organisation and launching a small Chinese marketing campaign!