Heart, Head . . . and Legwork

“So much of philanthropy is about the ‘heart’. You’ve talked a lot about [metrics that satisfy] ‘the head.’ Can you talk about metrics that get to satisfying the ‘heart,’ or how you think about integrating the heart and the head?”

That was the last question of the Q&A session following keynote remarks at a Philadelphia Estate Planning Council luncheon on Tuesday, sponsored by The Philadelphia Foundation. Two hundred and forty estate-planning professionals—lawyers, private bankers, accountants—filled the wood-paneled Lincoln Memorial Room of the Union League, surrounded by the oil-painted portraits of the club’s previous presidents. It was heartening that so many had come to learn about high impact philanthropy. According to the organizers, previous programs on “charity” had drawn no more than 50 or so attendees.

For me, though, what was most exciting was the extended question and answer period. I love Q&A. It offers our team an opportunity to gauge engagement, identify what’s really on people’s minds, and challenge our own thinking. Such sessions are invaluable for ensuring that our work is actionable.

Many of the questions were ones we’ve received before that regard the Center’s role in the space (see answer below), whether high impact philanthropy requires lots of money (answer: no) and what metrics are indicative of success (part of the answer: not overhead ratios).

However, what has stuck with me—and what clearly got the most nods in the room—was that very last question.

I suspect that every important decision that any of us makes involves both our hearts and our heads.

In philanthropy, the “heart” part has never been the problem. One look at fundraising appeals and donor testimonials, and you’ll see the heart part of philanthropy is strong.

But the “head” part has always been harder. Because it takes time, training, and work. For individual donors who aren’t engaged in philanthropy full-time, the head part can also sometimes have a funny way of making people feel distanced from the very people they hope to help.

Also, as one of the donor respondents in our I’m Not Rockefeller study remarked, “I don’t want this to be a job“.

That’s exactly why our center was started—to do more of the “head” work of philanthropy. We access the information, analyze it, synthesize it, and translate it so that donors can move more easily from generosity and good intentions to impact. To extend this odd body-part metaphor I’ve fallen into, we do the needed legwork for donors and their advisors, so that more money can flow more quickly—and confidently—to doing good.

High impact philanthropy is about making a positive difference in people’s lives. There are many reasons to give, but for those donors who care about this kind of change, we’d argue that few things warm the heart more than knowing—with confidence—that you are making the kind of impact you intended.