The legacy of giving—how to think about philanthropy

Philanthropy doesn’t have to be what we typically think of, like donating large sums of money as the next Bill Gates or having a building named after yourself. It’s how you ask to be remembered and to have your own legacy tied to a cause or organization that you believe in. You don’t even necessarily have to do the giving to be a philanthropist—for example, you can ask friends and family to donate to a specific organization in place of sending flowers to a funeral, or to donate to a cause each year in your memory.

When thinking about where and how to give, consider:

1: Personal Connection

This is probably the most common style of philanthropy. If you’ve worked with an organization closely, like a school, non-profit, or church, that can be a natural choice. Your giving could range from monetary donations for needed resources or scholarships to organizing an annual volunteer day or charity auction in your name.

Action ideas:

  • Talk to the leadership of an organization to plan ahead and see what their greatest needs are.
  • Think about if you would prefer to make a monetary donation for their discretion (often preferred by organizations) or decide what your money will go to. You can also put your charitable giving towards something like sponsoring an event.

2: The Impact Factor

Perhaps you don’t have a specific preference of what organization to give to, but you want to have the biggest bang for your buck. Effective Altruism is a social movement you might be interested in, using data-driven methods to think about how we can have the greatest impact. It applies the same rigor in charity as when we invest money or spend it on services and goods. The most impactful donations will likely not be the most glamorous—for example, de-worming children in Africa—but there is solid evidence for these interventions and the effect they actually have on people’s lives.

Action ideas:

  • You can find top charities on websites like GiveWell, an organization that transparently assesses the effectiveness, quality of evidence, and level of need of many different non-profits.
  • Popular causes to consider: global health; education; climate change and environmentalism; criminal justice reform. Thinking through what philanthropic causes you might be interested in is another way to think through your legacy.
  • Consider for-profit causes you believe in too.

3: Tangible memorials

Perhaps your family has always gone to the same park, sports venue, or community center—a place that your children and grand-children will continue to go to years to come. Having a physical reminder of you there can be a powerful and cherished memory, whether it’s as simple as planting a tree or garden, adopting a bench, building a playground, or having your own brick in a stadium wall.

4: Getting more creative

A few years ago, the media picked up on the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy. The idea started when a writer gave $100 each to several friends to use charitably in the most creative ways they could. The result? Quarters scattered on a school playground during recess, small grants to artists, and many more random acts of kindness. If you’re looking for more spontaneous ways to give, spreading the wealth can definitely generate interesting ideas!

Lastly, philanthropy isn’t just limited to planning for the future—if in the process you find a cause that would benefit now, that’s just as meaningful as giving later!

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