Finding Your Philanthropic Passion

Ellen Remmer
Strategic Philanthropy
Thursday, August 18, 2011

Have you ever been with someone that brings a level of personal fire and emotion to their philanthropy that really inspires you (or that makes you wonder why you are not as emotionally invested in everything you support)?  

Finding your philanthropic passion can often begin with an examination of your values. Sometimes, however, finding your passion is just a question of choosing an opportunity, jumping in, and seeing how it feels. Even if you have good ideas at hand, you may want to “get your feet wet” before diving in. Here are some simple approaches to try:

  • Visit good organizations to see the work for yourself. Visits on the “front line” can educate and inspire you, along with giving you an overview of the organization or community.
  • Volunteer your time. Volunteer to do a single activity for a few months for an organization that interests you. Connecting daily with a population and seeing the day-to-day concerns of a program or cause will turn abstract ideas into pragmatic reality. 
  • Contribute skills and talents. Giving becomes more personal when you invest more of yourself in the process. Consider your skills and talents and how they match the needs of a particular nonprofit, whether it’s organizing a fundraising event, negotiating a contract, or helping to build a strategic alliance.
  • Join with others. Bring your family into your philanthropy or join a giving circle. Sharing your interest with others increases your potential to learn, to overcome any feeling of isolation, and to be supported and inspired by the commitment of your peers.
  • Serve on a board of directors. Board service can provide a more sophisticated understanding of an organization or issue and carries a responsibility and involvement that is very rewarding. In addition to what it can teach you, board service will bring you into contact with other people who are working and contributing in the field.

A keen awareness of your own interests and values is most often a prerequisite to finding and developing a passion and vision for the future. Reflecting on these is a good place to start. If a little more guidance would be helpful, check out a few easy exercises we’ve included in Passion: Discovering the Meaning in your Philanthropy, a free primer from TPI. 

Bringing your passion to your giving may be elusive and, at times, hard to sustain. But if you can begin to reflect on what you care about most and pursue it with conviction, your gift giving will likely become one of the most meaningful parts of your life.