Strategic giving: From “doing good” to “doing it well”

Strategic giving: From “doing good” to “doing it well”

With Arthur Gautier

In their new book “Vers une philanthropie stratégique” (Odile Jacob, 2020), Peter Frumkin, Anne-Claire Pache and Arthur Gautier adapt the philanthropic model developed by Peter Frumkin (University of Pennsylvania) to a French context and explain how to develop a philanthropic strategy that can optimise one’s positive impact on society. 

When we make a donation for a good cause, like fighting poverty or reducing school attrition, we might think that the hardest part is making the decision to donate. However, the complicated part about donations is figuring out how to donate, or rather “donating effectively”, meaning donating in a way that provides the most positive impact for the beneficiaries. For even with the best of intentions, a donation can be redundant, ineffective, or even destabilizing for the beneficiaries… this means that it is not just a matter of “doing good”, but also “doing it well”! 

Much like how entrepreneurs and business leaders use a strategy to achieve their goals, philanthropists can also develop strategic thinking. The goal of this is to maximize the positive impact of the donation for its beneficiaries, the cause they are supporting, and society in general.

The pillars of strategic giving 

There are five pillars to consider when building a philanthropic strategy. 

1. The first pillar, value, must answer the following question: what value do I want to create for society and for myself? This will allow the donor to consider their own motivations and what they personally expect from this act, as well as what they want their donation to do for society. For example, consider a philanthropist who wants to fight against school attrition rates. What is his driving force? Is it emotional, linked to a wish to repair an education failure that they or a loved one experienced? Or is it a more rational motor, as they read studies demonstrating the consequences of educational shortcomings for society? Clarifying these drivers is essential to determining the best way to act. 

2. The second pillar is the logic model, and consists of identifying the type of interventions and the type of recipients that would have the greatest impact. In the example of school attrition rates, the philanthropist could elect to give scholarships to deserving students, to finance associations that support education, or fund research programs that aim to understand how to prevent attrition. They could decide to finance actions in their community, if it experiences particular challenges, or to launch a project nationally that has already had regional success. There are numerous possible intervention styles to choose from. 

3. The third pillar is the giving style, meaning the level of engagement and visibility that the donors want to have through their donation. Do they want to write a check, or do they want to be more involved, through the educational support activities or as a strategic advisor to the associations they are supporting? Do they wish to be discreet or anonymous, or publicly recognized and in a position to encourage others to get involved in the cause?

4. The fourth pillar, the time frame, refers to the timing of the donation: when will they give and at what rhythm? Some may wish to be involved in the long-term, even permanently, and others may wish for their money to be used immediately to deal with urgent problems. In the example of school attrition, the philanthropist should consider how their money can have the biggest impact: by being distributed today to help current at-risk youths, or anticipate that the problem will be greater in future and that it would be wiser to allocate the money to future interventions and over a longer period of time.

5. Finally, the fifth pillar is the vehicle of the donation, meaning the type of organization chosen to receive the donation. A foundation, a private foundation, an endowment, an association… In France, philanthropists have numerous options at their disposal, and it is important to choose the vehicle or vehicles that will be best suited for the chosen actions. 

Strategic giving applies to situations where the donor succeeds in identifying coherent and coordinated responses to each of these questions. 

Further reading: 

Building a philanthropic strategy: An interview with Arthur Gautier and ESSEC Knowledge.

Frumkin, P., Pache, A., & Gautier, A. (2020). Vers une philanthropie stratégique. Paris: Odile Jacob. 

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