To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.

~ Aristotle

When you have the ability to become a philanthropist, it is a big honor and an even bigger responsibility. You want to help everyone, but you also do not want to be taken advantage of. There are many questions that come to mind when donating, including:

  • How much to give?
  • When to give?
  • Which cause are you passionate about?
  • What is the process of donating?
  • Should I give to a charity or foundation?
  • Should I create a charity or foundation?

To become an astute philanthropist, it is necessary to do your research, not only on the non-profits you are interested in, but also on philanthropy itself. Below are some references that are worthy of reading.

  1. The Almanac of American Philanthropy by Karl Zinsmeister. This is the resource for donating in the U.S. Zinsmeister breaks down the stats of donating and who has done the most in philanthropy. This encompassing book provides notable donations, profiles of philanthropists, ideas on charitable assistance and much more.  
  2. Forces for Good by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McCleod Grant. If you have ever wondered the impact a non-profit had on society, this is the book for you. It’s perfect for those interested in philanthropy and/or social change, from donors to non-profit managers.
  3. The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie. The Carnegie name is synonymous with philanthropy. Andrew Carnegie was the biggest philanthropist of his era. He gave away almost 90% of his fortune to charities and foundations. The book is based on article Carnegie penned, in which he called on the rich to use their wealth for the good of society.
  4. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow. Like Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was another great philanthropist of his time. This book is a biography, which details the beginning and extent of Rockefeller’s philanthropy.
  5. Protecting Donor Intent: How to Define and Safeguard your Philanthropic Principles by Jeffery Cain. This how-to book examines the practice of donating, from donor intent to and defining your mission to choosing a board and creating safeguards.

With the large number of newly minted millionaires over the past twenty years, a new class of philanthropists has emerged (e.g. The Giving Pledge). The resources above provide invaluable guidance on making giving decisions as well as ensuring donated assets are properly distributed and secured for future generations.

Originally published at on January 24, 2019.

The Future of Digital Fundraising

As strange as it may seem, raising money online is still in its infancy. The legal ramifications of crowdfunding have just recently been faced squarely by regulators and governments and the next steps in both capital formation and non-profit and charitable giving are right around the corner. With the steady stream of news articles about online funding scams, it’s no surprise that people are still so hesitant to use this medium. From stories of funerals and hospital bills to tales of woe, there’s currently no regulation in place to protect prospective donors. The companies with the biggest stakes in the fundraising future are obviously the social media platforms, which are in a headlong race to deploy front-ends for all manner of crowdfunding features.

The success of non-profit organizations is entirely dependent on budgeting and efficiency. For donors, patrons, and the companies they support, things have to become more practical. Since non-profits and technology go together so well, there are some new concepts you should consider looking into if you plan to raise money in the near future.

Equity Sharing

Commercial companies are bound to discover that equity will be the killer feature in any crowdfunding project going forward. Capital markets discovered the wealth-building power of equity sharing decades ago, and while governments can’t and won’t allow future online capital markets to become a free-for-all, the tools now exist to not only realize the dream of buying a share of your dream project but also to automate and regulate such projects. This is not only for the benefit of shareholders but also for the overall growth of electronic commerce.

Digital Currencies

Non-profits and charity fundraising efforts are very likely to become early adopters of digital currencies for a number of reasons. One of the primary motivators will be the robust and unalterable record-keeping of the blockchain, which will lead to a more exact record-keeping of tax deductions, as well as disclosures on people’s charitable giving. A cottage industry is likely to spring up around this feature of the blockchain, alongside several companies that will work with non-profits to invest or spend the digital coins they have collected.

Virtual Assistants

Advertising, marketing and customer service are among the numerous obligations that smaller non-profit players would love to either outsource or automate. With the emphasis on chatbots and virtualized customer care platforms now underway in technology circles, online services will soon combine with listening applications like Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana to produce a “reassurance engine” that will not only prevent ejections by nervous contributors but turn them into repeat and upsold contributors instead.


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Philanthropic activities have changed in recent periods such that philanthropists are more focused on ensuring that they support sustainable factors and improve the environmental conditions surrounding them. There is a significant number of non-government organizations involved in philanthropic activities to impact sustainability. Here are some essential charitable activities that actively support sustainability efforts.

Funding Tree Planting
Tree planting is one of the most critical activities falling under the category of sustainability. It plays a crucial role in preserving the environment. Trees prevent soil erosion and add nutrients to the soil for agricultural production. There are thousands of philanthropic activities directed towards tree planting in a bid to protect the environment. Other advocacy plans have already been developed to prevent tree felling.

Ocean Cleaning
One of the most significant environmental challenges that the world is facing pertains to the disposal of waste materials into the oceans. There are thousands of companies that direct their sewerage into the ocean, creating an unsafe environment for aquatic wildlife and humans alike. There has been an emergence of not-for-profit organizations engaging in fundraising efforts that aim to rid oceans of pollution and plastics.

Clean Energy Production
Increase in energy demand for corporate and domestic consumption has led to a significant increase in production using water and coolants. These methods, however, are considered unsustainable as they interfere with water supply while increasing the level of harmful gases in the atmosphere. A large number of non-government organizations are encouraging the use of alternative methods of energy production. Examples include the funding of wind power energy which is considered more sustainable.

Gabion Constructions
Gabions are important physical structures that play a critical role in preventing soil erosion while at the same time preventing water from moving at a higher speed leading to the destruction of properties. A large number of organizations have been involved in corporate social responsibilities that include the construction of gabions and other barriers that prevent soil erosion.

Organic Farming
One of the leading causes of environmental destruction is the use of chemicals in agricultural production. Many large plantations use fertilizers which harm the soil and the microorganisms that call it home. However, a large number of organizations have been raising funds to support organic/biological farming which eschews the use of harmful chemicals.

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Strategic vs. Checkbook Philanthropy

Matthew Gorelik - Strategic vs. Checkbook Philanthropy

Originally published on

Philanthropy is a broad term. It encompasses multiple different aspects of giving and many methods in which to do so. Because of the term’s overarching nature, there’s a common misconception that all philanthropic efforts are equal. This is not true.

The field of philanthropy can be broken down into several different subcategories, each with its own definition and purpose. Social discussions have done an excellent job of differentiating corporate philanthropy from its counterparts, but it has been less accommodating when discussing specific initiatives and charitable methods. Specifically, it has been remiss in distinguishing between strategic philanthropy and checkbook philanthropy.

Strategic Philanthropy

This particular branch of philanthropy is highly quantitative. Participants engaging in strategic philanthropy often conduct significant amounts of research before determining where and how to allocate funds. They choose a goal, distinguish success indicators, and document progress. The entire process is extremely measurable.

Because of its quantitative qualities, this particular concept is popular amongst corporate philanthropists. It provides companies with actual data that they can then broadcast to employees, consumers, and investors.

Similarly, strategic philanthropy can be an attractive concept to modern donors as it allows them to gauge their own personal impact on a specific cause. Measurable evidence of “doing good” is desirable in a society that feeds on results and gratification. We can take strategic philanthropy one step farther and apply it to personal goals. Assessing factors like “what worked well” and “how satisfied were you with your contribution,” helps individuals to better plan for their future philanthropic endeavors. It stands to reason that the more satisfied a philanthropist is with their efforts, the more likely they are to continue to engage.

Checkbook Philanthropy

Unlike strategic philanthropy, checkbook philanthropy requires very little thought or effort. Extremely common amongst the general public, checkbook philanthropy is the term that applies to any donation that requires little foresight or follow-up on either part. Direct mail funding requests, seasonal collection tins, and school fundraisers often fall into this category.

This branch of philanthropy is often criticized for its lack of data on direct impact and the ad hoc feeling about giving that it seems to establish. Often the donation amounts are relatively small, making it hard to identify exactly what your specific funds were used towards.

Also, checkbook philanthropy fails to create a connection between the donor and the cause. There tends to be very little emotional investment associated with these donations which makes it difficult for the requesting charity or foundation to build relationships and solicit repeat engagement.

That being said, both strategic and checkbook philanthropies are great ways to get involved in the field. Start with whichever method you have the time and funding for. You can always switch avenues, and there is certainly no rule saying that you can’t try both.