The Everyday Program Officer

I recently read two articles that got me to thinking about personal philanthropy practices. The first was from the Democrat and Chronicle out of Rochester, NY. Mark Hare wrote about the Rochester Women's Giving Circle, a group of 33 women who started a philanthropy group by having each woman pledge at least $1,000 each when they started in January and in June announced six grants totaling $37,500. The women in the giving circle were very specific when they started, specifying that grants must go to organizations that "help poor women and girls take control of their lives and be successful". The women didn't simply give their money to a local foundation and said "this is our intent, now run with it". While a local foundation does provide administrative help, the women reviewed proposals, interviewed applicant staff and expects the grantees to report measurable results. Sound familiar to the Program Officers in the reading audience?

The second article, Paul Bray's "The Power of Philanthropy", discusses the coming transfer of wealth and the potential for giving to non-profit organizations. An anticipated $41 trillion nationally is expected to transfer between generations over the next 50 years. Of that amount, $6 trillion is estimated to go towards charitable bequests and the rest will go to heirs. What are these folks gonna do with all that money?? Mr. Bray hopes they will put it towards charitable organizations through either individual accounts with local foundations or network with others to form giving circles. He emphasizes that anyone can do this, not just the Gates' or Rockefellers.

What impressed me about the women's circle in Rochester was the diligence and hands-on approach they took when considering where to put their money. They acted just like a foundation Program Officer to ensure that their funds were going to organizations that provided effective programs with documented results. With the coming intergenerational transfer of wealth, will others be this diligent or will they simply write a check?

As emerging leaders in organizational philanthropy, I wonder whether we are also emerging leaders in personal philanthropy. How much do we scrutinize the organizations we donate to? Do we look at their program results--not just how many the serve but how they actually change the lives of their clients? Do we look at past financial performance of the organization? We probably use Guidestar when reviewing applicant proposals for our jobs, but how often do we look at that before we donate our own hard-earned money to an organization? Do we direct our funds to a specific purpose (programs, operations, etc.)?

As we go through our daily lives working in foundations, we should stop and consider how much due diligence we practice in our personal giving. Should we be content with our annual check to our favorite non-profit, or should we dig deeper to ensure that our funds are actually creating change? I would hope that we begin doing the latter.

(BTW, shout out goes to Resource Generation. They're the only organization that I'm aware of tackling this head-on with affluent young people.)