Strategic Philanthropists and Entrepreneurs Have Much in Common

Strategic Philanthropy
Entrepreneurs and strategic philanthropists
Thursday, June 5, 2014

How does one become a successful entrepreneur?  There’s certainly no special formula, in fact, there are many articles and opinions out there that list the supposed necessary attributes.  Some of the lists cite six qualities; others as many as twenty-five.  Scan a few of these lists and the characteristics start to overlap.  What strikes me is that these attributes may also be found in the strategic philanthropists we work with every day.

Impacting a social issue requires many of the same skills as building a successful venture.  

Here are some of the similarities and attributes found in many of our clients:

  1. Line up your business with your passion.   As Jeff Bezos, Founder of says, “One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.”  This is great advice.  Clarity about values, beliefs and passions is step one in the strategic philanthropy process.  Passion creates philanthropic focus. 
  2. Be visionary.  For both entrepreneurs and philanthropists, a single idea can transform a million realities.
  3. Be ambitious.  Entrepreneurs set ambitious goals.  They start businesses to fill a need.  Strategic philanthropists do the same. 
  4. Be innovative.  “Entrepreneurship in the field of philanthropy involves finding new and better ways for mobilizing and deploying resources to make the world a better place,” says J. Gregory Dees, Duke University Fuqua School of Business.  I couldn’t agree more.
  5. Be resilient and tenacious. This concept is personified by Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The social issues that strategic philanthropists set out to impact are complex. Perseverance is key.
  6. Have the courage/willingness to take risks. Risk and innovation go hand-in-hand.   Successful entrepreneurs often experience multiple setbacks before a business takes off.  Remember, failure is an option – as long as you learn from it and keep going. 
  7. Surround yourself with talented people -- know what you know and know what you don’t know.  Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak at Apple.  In the philanthropic arena, philanthropists might seek additional expertise from a philanthropic advisory firm, such as TPI.
  8. Be results-oriented. Setting clear, measurable goals that are evaluated on a regular basis is imperative for an entrepreneurial venture.  Is the entrepreneur accomplishing what s/he set out to do, and if not, what is the course correction? For philanthropists, solving social problems has been equated with moving a big rock up a steep mountain.  Progress can be slow and hard to see, so it’s especially important to define incremental steps that one can measure along the way.
  9. Create strategic alliances, as necessary. Entrepreneurs with extensive networks are favorably positioned to command the resources they need to build more quickly.  Partnerships are a hallmark of strategic philanthropists who want to move the needle on a big, long-standing social issue.
  10. Scale. Entrepreneurs often have big ideas that actualize in large ways.  Many philanthropists are looking to act boldly, give wisely and achieve large scale impact.

 So, how many of these resonate with you?

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