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03.27.2019 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

How to Give with Your Heart and Your Mind

The man I was interviewing said it loud and clear:

“Philanthropy is not about how much money you give. It’s about how you give the money.”

In that moment, all the well-meaning contributions we’d made over the years flashed before me. Had we done it all wrong?

According to Mark Brewer, CEO of the Central Florida Community Foundation, the answer is probably yes.

Think about it. We watch the evening news only to find ourselves too often discouraged and overwhelmed. The daily requests for our time and money are endless.

We do our best.

We text $10 to the most recent disaster fund. Maybe we contribute a percentage of income to a church or institution to ease the pain and suffering of others.

But, are we really moving the needle?

I rarely feel that I do. How can one person, after all, do much to solve the complex issues before us?

There is Hope via Your Community Foundation

Mark Brewer gives me hope for a better world and my place in it. Part of his job at the Community Foundation is to help people like you and me strategically invest our dollars so that we can impact social change in positive ways.

If you’re not familiar with community foundations, there are about 700 of them across America. In a recent podcast interview with Mark, he reminded me that we are all donors. If someone needs something, we generally donate, contribute, help in some way. Too often, however, we do so without knowing if our contribution is really solving the problem.

The magic of a community foundation is that it brings families, individuals, and businesses together to leverage their interests. Philanthropic giving is about focused giving.

For example, in Central Florida, Mark and his team help donors from over 400 funds formulate strategies that target their dollars toward a return on investment in the communities themselves. Over time, you have the ability to do more important things either by yourself or in cooperation with lots of other people.

Rather than throw money at a host of social problems, you can ask and answer the far deeper questions: Are we even solving the right problem? And, what are the metrics we’re looking at in order to do so?

As Mark so eloquently stated: “Philanthropy is really a combination of your heart, your mind, and your wallet.”

Watch The Millennials as They Step Up to Teach Us

Mark and I agree that this generation has access to more knowledge and information than any other. Millennials are smart, innovative, and they are blowing up systems and changing how we go about solving our most complex problems in the world.

They are also dramatically impacting how we think about philanthropic giving.

“They don’t react as much to things, but think about how can I blend my abilities with those of other people who are doing the same thing? How do we use this collective impact to actually change or solve something,” Mark stated.

Here’s a few things that we can learn about the Millennial approach to giving in the context of social reform:

Ask the big question, Why?

If you’re just writing a check as a knee-jerk response to an event or tragedy, you’re probably not making much difference. Yes, there may be times to respond to a natural disaster, but your dollars will have a far greater impact if they are linked to some larger focus.

Mark encourages us to think about why we’re giving to a specific person or situation before we do so. I know this simple question has helped me focus on specific social issues that matter to our family, e.g., disability-related issues. It’s also helped me feel less guilty when I have to say no to other organizations in need.

What are the social issues that matter to you most? Why?

Ask the big question, How?

For years, my husband and I contributed to multiple charities, to include nonprofit organizations from a variety of sectors.

As I learned more about philanthropy, however, I came to note that we never really knew how these donations were being utilized. In fact, in many instances, it seemed that the more we gave, the more was needed. Several organizations made promises they failed to keep.

We have now learned to ask how a contribution will move the needle of social change closer to solution. This means that contributions must be supported by metrics that help us know the impact of our dollars.

Millennials are great at responding to this question because they understand systems and metrics. They are also uniquely able to collectively see the solutions to multiple problems. This is unlike my own Baby-boomer generation. Baby-boomers typically don’t see the value in writing a check at a charity dinner or gala out of good will. Rather, they prefer knowing that their contributions are central to solving real world problems with measurable results.

Ask the big question, What?

Millennials believe that you can actually build a profitable business that also does good. It’s no longer enough to contribute for the sake of a tax write off. There are more billionaire business leaders in the market than ever before. Today, these leaders are focusing on what’s come to be known as social enterprise.

Mark Brewer defines social enterprise as the “process of building-for-profit and nonprofit businesses that have a balance sheet, profit, and mission and values related to social change— all of which is measurable.”

If you’re a business owner or leader, examine your business. What needs to change in order to align your business with a social initiative?

The beauty of a capitalist society is that we have the ability to collectively solve our own social problems in innovative ways. When we leverage our resources, whether it be via time, talent, or money, we gain deeper insight in how to do so.

What do you and your business stand for? What’s your contribution?

Are You a Donor or Philanthropist?

As a leader or business owner, I encourage you to think about the three questions. Why? How? What? Then, ask yourself, Am I a donor or a philanthropist? Is my heart and mind in alignment with what I’m giving?

Mark Brewer reminds us that a donor never measures anything. Not because they don’t want to but because it’s outside their scope. They live in hope that their contribution will somehow make a difference.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of this approach.

Philanthropy, on the other hand, leans toward the social enterprise direction. If you’re not sure how to properly invest in the many social issues that tug at your sleeve, I recommend that you contact your local community foundation to find out how you, too, can create a fund that will help you work with other leaders to impact social change.

I also invite you to visit: www.CFFound.org here in Orlando to learn more about how this works in my own community.

I’d love to hear any other ways that you, as a leader, might be reinventing how you contribute to social change. Feel free to email me at: Sharon@SharonSpano.com. No idea is too small or too big.

Here’s to aligning your heart, mind, and wallet for the greater good!

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. March 27, 2019