How to Become a Well Informed and Inspired Philanthropist

From Checkbook Philanthropist to Inspired Giver

Volunteers of various backgrounds and ages.



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Tracey Minkin and her husband decided some years ago that they should donate five percent of their income to good causes.

Each January they held their "budget summit," and decided what they wanted to change in their giving for the year ahead.

The couple kept track on a spreadsheet where they compared giving from previous years and projected how much and to whom they would be able to donate. They discussed the impact they hoped for, new nonprofits they might be interested in, and made sure that they supported local, national and global causes.

Tracey Minkin is an inspired philanthropist. Her story is one of many that Tracy Gary, a long-time philanthropist and advisor to philanthropists, relates in her excellent book, "Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy," third edition 2008. It is still available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.

Gary continues her inspiring work today with a philanthropic organization called Women Moving Millions.

Gary insists that you do not have to be rich to be a philanthropist, but neither do you become one just by writing acheck to a charity once a year.

Philanthropy is all about thought, care, deliberation, going beyond the expected, and becoming involved. It is about bringing your giving in line with your hopes for a better world.

Gary's book, "Inspired Philanthropy," has helped many readers think in a new way about how they give and organize their giving. In the book, Gary leads you through a personal analysis of what you want to do with your giving and how to pick the best charities for your goals.

Here is a short version of Gay's "Quickstart Guide" to inspired giving from this wildly useful book

Quickstart Guide to Inspired Philanthropy

  1. Begin with your values and passions. Choose two to five issues, populations, or approaches. Weigh these against what the community needs and your ideas of how change happens.
  2. Clarify what you want to accomplish with your charitable giving.
  3. Think about your immediate and lifetime giving. How much do you want to give now, or in the future? What will be your impact over your lifespan?
  4. Learn more about those areas you care about by talking with others and doing research. Refine your priorities.
  5. Research which groups match your mission and learn more about them. Check out the leadership of the organization, its vision, budget, productivity, and partnerships. Consider becoming more involved as a volunteer, board member, or board committee member.
  6. Decide what percentage of your giving you want to direct to each area of interest and the types of strategies you wish to fund.
  7. Decide how you want to make your giving decisions. Will you go it alone or with others through a giving circle or a church group? 
  8. Decide how you want to be involved with the organizations you fund. The best donors get involved with their causes by becoming volunteers or activists.
  9. Think about your lifetime contributions and leadership through estate planning and conversations with your family about values and community needs.
  10. Join with others to consider the significant issues, such as the environment, economic development, education, electoral reform, or health care.

"Inspired Giving" walks you through each of these steps, in depth, and even includes worksheets, a multitude of tips and charts, and plenty of personal stories from donors. It is a book that you will consult again and again as you plan your giving.

More Books for the Inspired Philanthropist

While "Inspired Giving" should be on your philanthropic bookshelf, there are others that you might want to read, such as:

Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant. This 2012 book collected data on hundreds of charities to determine why some succeeded and others failed. What the authors found out can guide any philanthropist's search for the most effective charities out there.

The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty by Peter Singer, 2010. Singer has led the way with research into where your dollars can do the most good. The answer lies in combating global poverty. Some of this information might surprise you and make you a bit uncomfortable, but it might change the way you look at your giving. Singer also has a website where he lists the best charities for solving poverty around the world.

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, Melinda Gates, 2019. The philanthropic world's hottest issue right now is women and how they power change around the world. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wrote this book to chronicle her journey to understanding just how vital women's issues are. She admits that she thought they were "soft" issues and not always top of mind for her foundation. But she has changed her attitude and, in this book, tells all.