Each of us realistically desires to maximize our own personal impact within the world through our values, family, jobs, and other meaningful ways. Specifically in the area of maximizing impact through philanthropic endeavors, there are numerous examples throughout history of philanthropists that have left a tremendous legacy because of the intentional philanthropy that they engaged themselves. Whether an individual is involved in philanthropy as a board or staff member of grant-making foundation, an advisor for a donor-advised fund, or an individual donor, one should consider the importance of stewarding philanthropic initiatives for the sake of maximizing impact.
The below “funnel” approach in stewarding philanthropic initiatives can assist individuals in maximizing their organizational and/or individual impact. The funnel approach starts at the wide base of the funnel that involves gathering information on potential grantees. The approach continues the process of narrowing down the grantee possibilities based upon various steps. The process results in one or more chosen nonprofit organizations being funded that seem to best accomplish the grantor's objectives.
The steps of the funnel approach to stewarding philanthropic initiatives are as follows that can be adapted to one's own context for giving:
1. Clearly define the grantor's long-term, intermediate-term and short-term objectives. This step is extremely crucial. Without it, one is not able to evaluate whether success is obtained at some future point in time. Long-term or strategic objectives typically focus on what the grantor desires to accomplish over the next 5-10+ years from a macro or “big picture” standpoint. Intermediate objectives typically focus on 1-5 years that break down the long-term objectives into more practical micro steps. Short-term objectives usually concentrate on a 12-month period to determine the specific steps and timeline that are needed to help accomplish the intermediate steps of the donor's objectives.
2. Develop the application form (or modify the existing application form) to include questions that concentrate on gathering details on how specifically the applicant grantee would help accomplish each of the grantor's long-term and intermediate-term goals. Also, the expectations and guidelines are provided on the application form that the applicant agrees to abide by if selected. This step may also involve publishing the application on a website and/or through other mediums.
3. Study demographics, geographical and other relevant data. Whether a grantor is already familiar with the demographics or not, research needs to be done to study the current and relevant data needed related to the geographical area that the grantor seeks to have impact. If the grantor lives or is familiar with the specific geographical area, one needs to not assume that they already know the data but needs to consider their research as if they knew nothing of the area. Sometimes perceptions based upon personal assumptions can drastically hinder this step.
4. Evaluate other organizations that seem to at least partially align in accomplishing the grantor's long-term and intermediate-term objectives. Consider nonprofit, governmental, educational and potentially for-profit organizations in this step.
5. Research all grantee possibilities based upon previous applications, along with visiting with leadership in social organizations, chamber of commerce, government officials, religious organizations, and potentially others. Visually, this collection of possibilities fill the wide gap at the top of the funnel.
6. Develop a think tank virtual team of collaborators with similar objectives within the geographical area to leverage impact for all involved. These collaborators may involve nonprofits, for-profit organizations, government entities, schools and/or others. Be sure to include experts in this think tank especially related to specific subject matters that the grantor is less familiar. This think tank may eventually lead to some adjustments in grantee selection to prevent over-funding between the collaborators or increased funding for a joint-collaboration.
7. Conduct preliminary research on the grantee possibilities and develop a consideration list of grantees for potential 12-month funding based upon research thus far. Part of this research involves gathering data on how the various grantee possibilities maximize their impact. The funnel begins to narrow.
8. Correspond with the potential grantees and request that the organizations submit a completed application form by a specific deadline.
9. Collaborate with others involved in the grantee decision process after the application deadline and narrow the list of grantees along with potential 12-month funding amounts based upon the application data submitted, personal research and input from the potential think tank developed in step #5. After this step, the funnel has drastically narrowed.
10. Submit potential grantee list and proposed funding amounts to whomever makes the final grant decisions, if applicable.
11. Correspond with the grantee organizations related to approved recipients and those not approved. For those approved as recipients, provide them with the written agreement related to expectations and guidelines that includes accountability reporting deadlines. A stepped-funding approach versus all at once can help insure that the grantor has a negotiating tool in obtaining these reports. Visually, the beginning of the spout portion of the funnel is reached. As funds flow through the 12-month funding period, funds flow through the spout until the end is reached.
12. Develop a dashboard for monitoring the progress of grantees and their success based upon accountability reports submitted by them periodically. Specifically, their progress is monitored that specifically relate to accomplishing the grantor's long-term and intermediate-term goals. If others are involved with the grantor's decisions, keep those individuals updated with the dashboard results periodically.
13. Continue to engage in ongoing research through personal endeavors and through meeting with the think tank for dynamic adjustments as needed based upon changes that may occur with potential grantees, demographics, crisis situations that may change funding priorities, and other variables. In other words, monitor the pulse of the funding process and allow for a dynamic (versus static) process as needed.
14. Begin the process again with step one in the later six-month period prior to end of the initial 12-month funding period to insure consistent and uninterrupted funding to build on current momentum related to the impact in process.
The steps to the above funnel approach in stewarding philanthropic initiatives should help maximize a grantor's impact by having a systematic and dynamic approach to accomplishing the underlying objectives. Such steps provide a process to help leverage impact utilizing limited resources in a maximum manner for the sake of the lives that a grantor is seeking to make a difference.
-- Dr. Jeffrey W. Steed, MBA
Jeffrey W. Steed is the Senior Director of Gift Planning at The University of Texas at Arlington. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas in Arlington. Steed also has a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is a business instructor on the adjunct faculty of a local college in Little Rock, Arkansas. Steed has authored several books and articles. To contact the writer, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.