Amer­i­cans tend to be very char­i­ta­ble. His­tor­i­cal­ly, char­i­ta­ble giv­ing as a per­cent­age of GDP has con­sis­tent­ly hov­ered around 2%. In 2017, this amount­ed to more than $400 bil­lion, accord­ing to Giv­ing USA. Yet, most of us don’t real­ly under­stand the impact that our dona­tions have on the caus­es we choose to sup­port. After the check is writ­ten, where does the mon­ey go?

Strate­gic phil­an­thropy is a way to give more effec­tive­ly. It is often embraced by those who are in a finan­cial posi­tion or state of mind to leave a lega­cy of char­i­ta­ble giv­ing, who also wish to mea­sure the impact of their gifts. How­ev­er, any­one that reg­u­lar­ly writes checks to their favorite orga­ni­za­tions and caus­es can devel­op a more strate­gic approach to giv­ing.

Although strate­gic phil­an­thropy requires time and dis­ci­pline, those who prac­tice it often achieve more mean­ing­ful results. Whether your gifts are moti­vat­ed by finan­cial rea­sons or pure gen­eros­i­ty, the fol­low­ing steps can help you devel­op a process to be more strate­gic and effec­tive about giv­ing.

Determine a Cause

Peo­ple choose to give for many rea­sons. Deter­min­ing your moti­va­tions for­giv­ing is the first step in devel­op­ing an effec­tive strat­e­gy. If you are a more expe­ri­enced donor, review­ing your past dona­tions can help you dis­cov­er where your pas­sions lie.

Regard­less of your expe­ri­ence with char­i­ta­ble giv­ing, cer­tain ques­tions can help you nar­row your focus to direct your phil­an­thropic efforts. For exam­ple, what issues in your com­mu­ni­ty con­cern you? What do you wor­ry about for future gen­er­a­tions? And, how do you wish to be remem­bered? While these ques­tions are not all-encom­pass­ing, they can serve as a help­ful start­ing point in iden­ti­fy­ing your pas­sions, val­ues, and priorities—all of which will help you deter­mine what you want to achieve with your giv­ing strat­e­gy.

Involve Your Family

Phil­an­thropic giv­ing is often an expres­sion of a person’s beliefs and val­ues, a way to con­nect with oth­ers in the com­mu­ni­ty or with fam­i­ly, and an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate a lega­cy that can be passed to future gen­er­a­tions. Involv­ing your fam­i­ly in the process can help make the expe­ri­ence more mean­ing­ful while estab­lish­ing a strat­e­gy that can be imple­ment­ed well into the future.

Addi­tion­al­ly, your fam­i­ly mem­bers all have unique strengths and inter­ests that can be embraced to devel­op an effec­tive giv­ing strat­e­gy. Giv­ing your fam­i­ly the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express their own pas­sions and goals can help them feel more engaged and may bring more focus to the lega­cy you wish to cre­ate.

Have an Impact

Once you and your fam­i­ly have iden­ti­fied the caus­es that are impor­tant to you and your moti­va­tions for giv­ing, the next step is to devel­op a plan with well-defined action items. Like any skill, devel­op­ing a per­son­al approach to phil­an­thropy must be learned, which can take time and effort. You may decide to start by giv­ing small amounts to a few orga­ni­za­tions while grad­u­al­ly learn­ing more about the impact your gifts make. As you become more edu­cat­ed, over time you can bet­ter focus your efforts to achieve the end results you desire.

To deter­mine whether the process you have devel­oped is mak­ing an impact, it’s impor­tant to first under­stand how you and your fam­i­ly define suc­cess. Once you have clear­ly defined what you want to achieve, an effec­tive giv­ing strat­e­gy includes a set of cri­te­ria and mile­stones to mea­sure whether your efforts are indeed suc­cess­ful.

The jour­ney to mak­ing a mea­sur­able impact is often long, requir­ing patience and flex­i­bil­i­ty. How­ev­er, phil­an­thropic giv­ing is also a great way to engage loved ones and future gen­er­a­tions while cre­at­ing a lega­cy of gen­eros­i­ty. A care­ful and dis­ci­plined approach to phil­an­thropic giv­ing enables you and your fam­i­ly to come togeth­er for a shared cause while being more effec­tive with your phil­an­thropic efforts.