Last year at the Foundation, we started asking people, “What’s Your Cause?” We had causes written on cocktail napkins and on paddles for people to hold while posing for fun photos. We had jars of dozens and dozens of colorful cause buttons for our donors and friends to choose from at our events, and we even posted a section on our website asking this seemingly simple question. What do you care about?
The welfare of Animals? The Environment? Children? Education? Mental Health? Southwest Florida? Economic Development? Your Hometown somewhere else? Your Alma Mater? Your church or synagogue, temple or religious organization? The Arts?
Most everyone we asked picked more than one and many chose several causes. But, when we work one on one with donors planning their philanthropy or their legacy funds to be established when they “graduate” (as we like to say), they often become stagnated by the notion of having to definitively decide what difference they want to make in the world. This has led to some very interesting conversations, as you can imagine.
Through these encounters, the Foundation team has come to realize firsthand that giving and philanthropy come from a core value system that some, actually many, donors are not completely aligned with either consciously or subconsciously. When we ask WHY they give, the reasons vary from knowing someone in the organization who asks to “it’s something we have always done.”
That’s when we pull out our magic deck of cards that help us to find out more about the donor. Because we are concierges of philanthropy, we developed a solution to help donors create their very own philanthropic mission statement, a document that will literally capture the heart and mind of the giver, articulated in words to put into action.
By conversation and process of elimination, the donors review a wide array of values until the stack is distilled and until the donor is unwavering. Maybe honesty is important, or responsibility, excellence or risk-taking. To be effective, and to capture the donor or the donor couple’s true essence, they must narrow the selection to three. Then we start on the stack marked “interests,” animals, people, education, health care, child care, the elderly, the environment, water quality, transportation, safety, recreation, and so on. We narrow those down to three or five solid causes, those non-negotiable causes that the donors leave untouched on the table.
From that point we start a conversation so the donors can explain to us why those final selected cards define their character. We talk about examples of situations that made that value and/or interest essential to the donor’s life to provide even more clarity. Then we write a philanthropic mission that is a very personal statement to be used as an important guide.
I met with one such donor recently whose values are Community, Excellence and Leadership. She has lived here her entire life and thinks of her family and friends and those connections as very special. Excellence was taught to her by her father. He always encouraged her to do her very best. She also chose Leadership because she has been rewarded by others who appreciate her taking the lead, she used the simple example of being in her exercise class recently and when she walked to the front to ask the teacher to turn down the music so she can hear her better, to then turn around and see her fellow exercisers giving her the thumbs up. “Why didn’t anyone else take the step up if it was bothering them?”
Her interests are Education, the Environment and Aging & Elderly. And through that, here is her Philanthropy Mission Statement:
I want to support leadership work that brings communities together in a vibrant environment educating our minds through the arts and literature and stimulating our bodies through fresh air and exercise. I care about the growing and special needs of the aging and elderly population. I want to support organizations that are addressing these issues holistically. All of the programs I support will be done with excellence.
Donors like this one now have a game plan to narrow their focus to be effective and more fulfilled personally. Many donors share this document with their children and grandchildren. And, if the donor has a fund with us, we attach their philanthropic mission statement to it.
So what’s your cause? I’d love to play the magic card game with you to find out. Go to our website at www.FloridaCommunity.com and click on the SOLVE button. Tell us your favorite cause. Or you can always reach out to me at CRogers@floridacommunity.com, or 239-274-5900. A game of hearts is in order.