A Charitable Resolution You Can Keep

In all the talk about setting New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been surprised by one observation I’ve heard from several experts: we often make too many goals. By doing this, we fail to make progress with any of them. A better way is to dig deeper and strive to achieve success with a few select goals.

So let’s just make just one resolution for our charitable giving this year – to be more strategic in our giving. Below are three steps to help you along the path to success.

Be outcome-focused.

Are you clear on what you want to achieve? I encourage you to think about that question as part of your philanthropy as a whole, but let’s start with one issue. What is it that led you to support a certain group?

Your charitable dollars make it possible for you, as the saying goes, to be the change you wish to see in the world. We support charitable organizations for many reasons, but making an impact and seeing positive change is often one of the biggest.

Really knowing your philanthropic goals opens the door to more strategic giving overall. It’s the first step in our 8 Steps to Securing Your Donor Intent. If this was the only charitable change you successfully completed this year, you would have achieved a major victory for improving your strategic giving.

Dig in to one or two groups.

One resolution I’ve made for myself is to learn more about a local non-profit I’ve supported for several years. I like what the group does and they regularly communicate with me about their work. Still, I feel like I should be much more familiar with the good work they do.

If you’ve taken the step of being more outcome driven, the natural next step is to look at some of the groups you currently donate to. Do they deliver on the outcomes you want?

Start by picking one or two groups that you both support and would like to know more about. Develop a question or checklist of questions that will allow you to identify more clearly how your gift helps the organization achieve the positive outcomes you desire.

You might be able to answer the questions you have by reviewing annual reports or by spending time on the group’s website. Third-party sources such as Charity Navigator could be helpful, but know that it’s impossible for these sites to tell you the full story – especially for smaller organizations.

Most enlightening of all would be a short conversation with the organization’s leadership or a member of its donor relations team. As an added bonus, reaching out to the organization will give you a sense of how responsive the group actually is. For me and the group I mentioned earlier, my plan is to volunteer there so I can really see inside. While there, I’ll be able to ask a few of my specific questions to some of the staff.

Expand your impact.

What other groups out there are doing similar activities but in a different place or in a different way? Are there organizations doing work that may seem unrelated but in some way support the outcomes you are hoping for?

You’ve now taken the time to better understand what you hope to achieve with your giving, and you’ve learned more about how one or two groups meet those ends. As a final charitable resolution for the year, make an effort to leverage your impact by testing support for additional groups working toward those same goals.

Effective non-profits don’t operate in a vacuum. Many groups share your commitment to a certain cause. It’s true that some will be more effective, engaged, or cooperative than others. Over time, you will learn which groups offer the best value for your charitable dollar. By supporting multiple groups in a single issue area, you help lift the tide of change more quickly.

Start by asking your favorite groups the other organizations with which they work closely. You can also ask friends who care about similar issues for recommendations of new groups. Determine which of organizations best fit with your charitable goals and consider sending them some support.

If you’ve resolved not simply to be more strategic in your giving but also to get your charitable house in order for the long-term, then download our 8 Steps to Securing Your Donor Intent [link]. It’s an easy guide to developing a charitable plan that makes an impact while you are alive, yet remains true to your beliefs after you are gone.


  • Peter Lipsett

    Peter Lipsett is vice president at DonorsTrust. He also leads DonorsTrust’s Novus Society, a network of donors under 40 committed to growing their philanthropic know-how. He has a dual degree in political science and theater from Davidson College and finally got a practical credential with an MBA from George Mason University.

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