The Art of Giving: What is Your Legacy?

I think the vibrant response from the Tactical Philanthropy community to Wednesday’s guest post from Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon caught them a little off guard. In a comment following up on 30+ reader comments, Jeff wrote “Wow! Got off a plane after midnight to discover this fascinating conversation.”

The plan today was to run a set of questions that Jeff and Charles pose in their book. But given the strong response, we’re calling an audible and the authors have written a new guest post especially for Tactical Philanthropy in which they ask a single important follow up question.

I hope you’ll consider offering your thoughts via a comment. New comments still qualify for the Picture Your Legacy toolkit from 21/64 (see this post for details) and as I understand it, Jeff and Charles are so impressed with the dynamic community here at Tactical Philanthropy they are considering how else they might say thank you to everyone who has participated in this conversation.

By Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon

What will be the legacy of your giving?

First off, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated in Wednesday’s dialogue, and to Sean for moderating this forum with such a deft touch. We asked the question why do you give and found the spread of commenters’ responses fascinating as well as their conviction in tone.  We both believe that giving is a deeply personal expression of the donor’s self and so the validation of the Tactical Philanthropy community was extremely rewarding.  (We particularly loved Madmunk’s comparison of philanthropy to music!)

Two of the major themes from Wednesday’s thread were especially thought provoking. One was that people give because they want to “make a difference.” The second theme, loosely stated, is that giving for self-fulfillment only, will not translate into societal impact – particularly as we add more zeros to the check. Jeff Mason went so far as to say that giving “driven solely by a desire to feel good may in fact lead to funding an organization that is ineffective or even harmful.” Thank you Jeff! We couldn’t have said that any better. Changing the world doesn’t come just from knowing what makes you tick. You must also understand how to play the game. What financial vehicles and organizations are going to help translate your desire to “make a difference” into a reality and into greater good for the social sector.

The subtitle of our book is Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan precisely because you can’t have one side without the other for measurable philanthropic impact. This idea is captured quite clearly here in Tactical Philanthropy’s overview language where it says: “Tactical Philanthropy is about designing a great philanthropic plan and then building a portfolio of grantees that is aligned with your values.”

Determining one’s motivations for giving, although essential, is largely an exercise in self-reflection layered with an element of trial and error. On the other hand, figuring out how to connect those motivations with strategic outcomes is a more complex task, requiring copious amounts of data, outside expertise, resources, and in most cases, partners, both in funding and thought. We’ve dedicated a lot of time debating how to best guide others down this winding pathway, and have developed a number of strategic questions which can catalyze the thinking of aspiring funders as they prepare to attack their chosen issues in manageable, bite-size nuggets.

In our post on Wednesday, we talked about the first steps before funding.  Now, let’s fast forward to the end-game – making a difference. If Wednesday’s post was about understanding your own motivations for giving, today we’re interested in knowing about the other side of the journey – your philanthropic aspirations and intended outcomes. Another way of asking this is:

What will be the legacy of your giving?


  1. Jeff Mowatt says:

    The legacy I suspect will be in having seeded ideas. Just a few days ago, I’d been reflecting how the words being used today in the context of philanthrocapitalism were used some years earlier in the context of people-centered economics – one of the roots of what’s now called social enterprise.

    That will be my colleague and founder’s influence. He’d applied it to source microfinance in Russia before we met.

    We’ve focussed our activism on Ukraine over the last 5 years to influence government policy on childcare, broadband deployment and support for social enterprise in the form of a new USAID foundation. Childcare reforms have recently demonstrated results in an increase of domestic adoptions.

    Neither of us fitting any of the descriptions in that article, I see it as a form of emotional and spiritual investment, in perhaps what others may derive from raising a family. I attempt to convey below what we do in the context of compassion, in advance of next week’s launch of the Charter for Compassion.

  2. Maureen says:

    I hope the legacy of my giving is the same as that of my parent’s giving. My parents may not have had much money but they gave a lot of their time to causes that they believed in. The legacy of my parent’s giving is three children who have chosen jobs that make a difference in their communities. Their legacy is three children who are actively engaged in their communities and who encourage their friends and colleagues to join in. I hope the legacy of my giving is to continue this multiplier effect and encourage active citizenship in my community and beyond. And, hopefully, through my work at a Community Foundation to encourage thoughtful, strategic, well informed philanthropy!

  3. Sonia Singh says:

    What fascinating conversation the last few days. Sean, thanks for creating a forum for such thoughtful, intelligent discussion.

    When I consider my legacy of giving (that sounds so lofty to me!) it’s not so much about measurable outcomes. If giving is step 1, I see measurable outcomes as step 1. Of course I want my giving to go to an organization that is creating measurable impact and operating effectively. But as to the legacy – the “soul” part of giving – that’s something that cannot be measured.

    I think about a volunteer from my favorite nonprofit, who in a single line of dialogue inspired me to switch my career path to nonprofit work. Or my mother’s old coworkers who, one particularly desperate Christmas, anonymously left wrapped gifts on our doorstep. Or the local family who gave me a small scholarship for school that paid for the laptop that changed my college experience. None of them will ever know the impact they’ve had on my life, or the service I feel obliged to give to pay it forward.

    That’s the legacy I want to leave. Something that inspires someone else to do something, however large or small, that will improve someone else’s life. And lead them to do something for someone else, and so on. I’m a big believer in the butterfly effect- small changes in conditions leading to big impact.

    To me, the measurable impact is a crucial step in figuring out how to make that initial change, but by no means is it my end-goal. I hope that my legacy is so big that I will never know its full extent.

  4. Aaron Stiner says:

    What will be the legacy of your giving? Wow, what a question!

    The legacy of my giving is broad. My giving includes, as Kellogg would say, my time, money and talent. It also includes my energy, passion and focus of thought. I leverage all these assets on behalf of what I care about.

    What I give to and care for first and most are my family and network of close friends. I hope my legacy of giving with that group is that I was able to help care for them in some way they needed and that they are inspired in their own generosity. I consider my giving to these people voluntary action for the common good, but I know many would argue it isn’t philanthropy. I still hope it has an impact.

    Beyond my family and friends, I am currently giving mostly to two causes. One is my work life, where I am developing a new initiative for the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, called Advancing Philanthropy. The mission of the Center is to help build the capacity of the social sector by enhancing the effectiveness of those who lead, manage and support nonprofit organizations. The goal of our Advancing Philanthropy Initiative is that current and potential philanthropists – individuals and families – will benefit from knowledge, tools and resources that help them maximize the impact and satisfaction of their giving, thus raising the level of effective philanthropic support in the region.

    I know, since I work here I am not voluntarily giving my time, money and talent, but the paid time I spend helping advance philanthropy is a cause I care about and I certainly hope it has an impact and legacy! I hope the legacy of my work here is that more people in our community embrace philanthropy – voluntarily giving their time, money and talent to causes they care about – to help shape the community around them in a positive, healthy way.

    The second cause in which I invest my time, money, talent, passion and energy is as a board member and donor of YNPN Phoenix. We are a professional development and social networking organization for young nonprofit professionals in Metro Phoenix. We are run by an all volunteer board and have over 130 paid members from more than 60 Metro Phoenix nonprofit, community, business and government organizations.

    My giving and volunteering with YNPN Phoenix is the most formal of all the ways in which I voluntarily give to causes I care about. I hope the legacy is a thriving organization facilitating a robust member network as long as it is needed in the community. As a result, I hope emerging nonprofit professionals can find satisfaction in their own giving to advance the common good while helping achieve maximize impact for the causes they care about.

    Again, wow. Thank you so much to the authors for posing this question and to Sean for allowing this forum of conversation. These are interesting and exciting conversations. I look forward to continue participating and to reading the book!

    Best regards, Aaron Stiner

  5. The whole approach of “giving” does not sit well with me personally. For me, “charity” can be a poor excuse for “justice” — “giving” a poor excuse for “sharing” that which actually does not belong to us alone.

    If we start with an approach of stewardship rather than ownership, then giving transforms into responsible sharing, charity into justice. Whether we view everything as belonging to God, or to all of life or humanity, the idea of stewardship makes it clear that what we “own” is not really ours.

    One of my favorite scenes in the film arts is in Schindler’s List, toward the end where Oscar is trying to shed his remaining excess possessions. He points to each item and fires off a quick calculation of how many more lives he could have saved in its place.

    This being said, I’m all in favor of bringing both strategy and tactics to bear on the process — no matter how we end up characterizing it — of wisely sharing the portion of this world’s wealth that comes into our hands, what we might call the “science” of it. Likewise, I deeply appreciate the personal human touch that we can bring as well, what the authors aply call the “art” of it. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

  6. GiveWell makes a good point in today’s blog post : we focus too much on ourselves, the givers, and way too little on the recipients (not the nonprofits, but the people those nonprofits exist to serve).

    From what I have read, the authors of this guest blog agree that we must focus on how to make a difference. I read their question to be about that. To me, the answer has to be about improving the life prospects of those people organizations serve; about increasing the chances that they will not contract HIV, that they will graduate from high school, lead happy and productive lives, not end up in jail, become homeless, and so on.

    Yet, many emphasize inspiring others to give over helping the people they give to. I don’t want to discount the value of inspiring others to give, but giving in itself is not a good thing unless it results in something good! It won’t improve communities if many, many, many more people give if those givers do not care to identify organizations that are actually effective. Many are not.

  7. Laura Deaton says:

    I disagree wholeheartedly with Ingvild. I do believe that both the urge to give and the act of giving have tremendous intrinsic value without reference to the end result, both for the giver and the receiver, and for society as a whole.

  8. There is one point in the above discussion that leaves a lingering disturbing feeling. Sorry, hate to say it but the one point that I find unearthing unease is around “giving for self-fulfillment only, will not translate into societal impact – particularly as we add more zeros to the check.” Really? One one hand a lot of zeros can do a lot of good not withstanding it’s that going to an organization that does no good at all. And, do we really care if giving is for self-fulfillment or tax purposes if a gift with a lot of zeros goes to a good organization. Really, who would ask the donor that question? And if they were to answer it, my thought is then So What?

    But to get to the ?: What will be the legacy of your giving? “We’re interested in knowing about the other side of the journey – your philanthropic aspirations and intended outcomes.” Out of all the clients I’ve worked with, individuals, foundations, companies, entrepreneurs there is one consistent philanthropic aspiration = to make a difference in their community, in lives or across the world. Now, about their intended outcomes, many haven’t thought that out, most don’t really grasps what that means. The beauty is when a philanthropy advisor drives that question down and they begin to think about. But, the legacy issue is larger than giving. I think giving is a subset of the entire legacy issue and a part of estate planning. Many make their legacy-giving plan about what was important to them: college/church/1 cause. Many want to leave a lil’ something-somthing to each because each was closely linked to a value they hold.

    I think if we can begin to approach the whole giving-legacy discussion from living it now, not waiting until ‘later or after’, we may be able to close the gap on what it means to make a difference.