by Emily Wiegand, program manager, The Grantmaking School, Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy

“This is a lot harder to do than I thought it would be,” is a recent remark I heard from a new staff person at one of the nation’s largest health-focused foundations. This comment — or a variation of it — is fairly common from those who give money away.

Whether you are giving as an individual or giving through a foundation, whether you have very little to give or have billions of dollars of assets to utilize, or whether you are motivated to give to “feel good” or are driven by strategic priorities, giving away money is never as easy as it looks. Typically, as you embark on your own philanthropic journeys as a donor, initially it seems that giving money away will be easy — you identify organizations or causes that you wish to support and you develop your own charitable goals with the hopes of making a difference. Really, how difficult could it be?

Consider the following scenarios and ask yourself, “how would I handle this?”

  • Saying ‘no’ to projects that are worthwhile and that may fit within your giving interests when the demand for resources far outweighs the supply;
  • Knowing that your giving approach may differ from family members, friends, colleagues, or board members and that these differences may be taken personally;
  • Attempting to find consensus among the above-mentioned groups on how to distribute resources wisely and effectively;
  • Desiring to make a difference without knowing for certain that your specified funds are having the intended results that you wanted, or are even making an impact;
  • Having limited knowledge about how your funds are being implemented;
  • Being perceived as a checking account as people approach you about different worthy causes again and again; and
  • Not being able to take direct credit for when a program/project/grant succeeds.

How do you go about being a responsible steward of the resources you or others have set aside? How do you serve as a change agent to enhance the impact of the funds? All of these stresses of giving well, as well as many others, are a privilege to have — but they are still difficult because we DO care, long to do good, and desire to leverage resources to address complex social problems. Consequently, all of this balancing, caring, and strategizing to make a difference through your giving takes much more time and energy than you may have ever imagined.

In the end, investing the time, thought, and energy, and utilizing all of the resources that exist to support philanthropic pursuits, is worth the hard work because you will figure some of it out and you will get it right. In doing so, you’ll develop your own strategy for doing good. Some of the hard aspects about the soft challenges of giving, specifically grantmaking, and establishing an effective personal strategy to manage the tensions that come with the job are discussed in the GrantCraft Guide, Personal Strategy, Mobilizing Yourself for Effective Grantmaking. In this guide, contributors discuss the elements of personal strategy and how it helps grantmakers to leverage their strengths in service to their objectives. As you encounter challenges and work towards a personal strategy for giving, you’ll see that the work required to make any philanthropic contribution is worth it — because the good you do does makes a difference in the world.

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