Pay it Forward

There is a touching article on today that demonstrates the power of philanthropy.  It’s a short piece about David Robinson (NBA Superstar) and his relationship with a group of kids at Gates Elementary in San Antonio.  His personal pledge to these students was to pay for their college education if they met some basic requirements such as attending some mentoring meetings, not having attendance problems and staying in school.

These students, now successful adults, are interviewed about the experience and the impact Robinson had on them.  Their success is Robinson’s reward.  When they ‘pay it forward’ by helping others will help Robinson’s support grow exponentially over time.
(See story link at the bottom of this post)

This article provoked some though about my own charitable contributions.  By a quick calculation, I give somewhere in the range of 3% to 3.5% of my annual salary in a variety of ways.  My university gets the biggest chunk, and the rest is spread among several other smaller nonprofits, most local.  However, I’m not sure I’m getting the outcome I could were I to be more thoughtful about my philanthropy before making a bunch of gifts.

To make a difference, philanthropy requires careful thought and planning.

  • Just what is it I want to accomplish?  
  • How will I know I’m making a difference and not simply taking a tax deduction? 
  • How do I define success?
  • Is this the best nonprofit to facilitate my priorities?

The biggest question for most, and the answer “YES” is the right one, is this:  Can somebody who doesn’t have NBA-Superstar money really make a difference in the world?

I’ve decided to spend significant time setting my goals for 2011 between now and the end of the year.  The first goal is simple:  Increase giving to 4-5% of annual income.  This is a reasonable increase and a number I can feel comfortable with at this stage in my life.  That’s the easy part. 

The hard part is determining how to allocate those philanthropic dollars.

We often think of major gift donors having made an ‘investment’ in an organization.  Their thoughtfulness is applauded, their objectives clear.  Isn’t this true for many of our annual fund donors?  They’re investors too.  What may seem like a ‘penny stock’ to some is a considerable investment to others.  Making wise investment choices determines a individual’s philanthropic success much as an investor determines the success of his or her portfolio.

Over the next several months I’ll be thinking quite a bit about where I want to focus my efforts for the next few years.  My ‘philanthropic roadmap’ will outline the basic needs I wish to address, the financial resources I want to dedicate and, additionally, how I can personally be involved in the efforts I support. To be honest, I’ve been a pretty hands-off donor in the past as time is often more difficult to come by than anything else.  I’m not sure if I can achieve my goals and still take such a passive role in the process.  That’ll be a big part of the planning process.

The funny thing is, we forget that donors everywhere have differing feelings about what a ‘significant gift’ is to them.  Whether they give $500 or $500,000, they are thinking about the same things I’m describing here.  When we ask them to contribute, we’re asking to be a part of that planning process and to invest in our mission.  We must meet their needs by providing careful stewardship of their contribution and by reminding them often how their investment is reaping dividends for our organization.  In turn, that makes them happier about their investment.  Their ‘philanthropic roadmap’ has plenty of detours – we need to make sure we’re on the same road they’re traveling if we want them along for the ride.  

Take a look at Robinson’s story and you might just be inspired to take some time to think about what your roadmap looks like too.