It is the end of another year and the tree is decorated, holiday cards are on the mantle, and gifts are under the tree in many homes. But in the home of this non-profit consultant, late December is when my husband and I sit down and discuss what we hope to do in the coming year. We talk about setting goals and look at our finances and calendars. But an important element of this discussion is to establish a philanthropic plan. This is something that any family can consider, regardless of the amount of money they are able to donate, since it also includes the organizations for which we plan to volunteer.

We start by talking about the organizations and causes that have meant the most to us in the previous year. There are groups whose missions we have felt strongly about for years and who we will want to include going forward and there are others where we have had a relationship but where our focus has shifted. Perhaps a friend of family member became ill or passed away and we want to make a donation to memorialize them or put some money toward supporting research efforts for a cure. Maybe we moved to a new area and want to support a few of the local organizations to which we have new connections. We have made some commitments to volunteer for organizations – a few in our area and one nationally – so we want to capture that as well. Some financial donations are small and others are large, but it helps us to make decisions when we can see them all in one place.

This isn’t a rigid process, but it is helpful in two important ways:

  • First, it prompts a discussion that helps us understand the causes that are important to each other. We suggested to one of our friends that she could use this as an opportunity to discuss the concept of philanthropy with her kids, maybe even asking them to suggest causes they care about and do research to make an argument for why the family should include a specific organization in their philanthropic plan. That might also create the opportunity for the family to decide to volunteer as a group. Helping kids to experience philanthropy is a great way to show them the joy of giving to others when they are young.
  • Second, it allows us to establish a budget – for both our money and our time – that we can plan against, so we don’t get spread too thin. We can also determine the best times of the year to give. Some organizations have periods where another donor agrees to match anything they raise, so if we time it for then we can double the impact of our gift to the organization. There are also periods of the year when an organization solicits funds for a specific program and when giving can also act as an endorsement of their efforts. Our philanthropic plan is a living document, so if something we didn’t plan for comes up during the year, we can always discuss whether to add it to the list.

Our goal in philanthropy is to be impactful and you can do that in myriad ways, but having a plan is a good way to start.