How to Have Year-Round Social Impact

All donors have a “philanthropic portfolio” that includes gifts that aren’t necessarily aimed at maximizing social impact. This includes impromptu donations to support our friends’ interests, thank you gifts to our alma mater or hospital, or contributions to our church or temple. Increasingly, donors are including social impact in their portfolios, asking, “How can my money do more good?” Here are tips to help you answer that question well:

Focus on the goal

As the saying goes, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” High impact philanthropy starts by asking, “What is the philanthropic goal of this donation?” That goal could be feeding the hungry, ensuring all kids learn, reducing poverty, improving the lives of women and girls, or any number of other worthy causes. Personal experiences often lead donors to commit to a particular community or a particular cause. It is fine to let the heart choose the goal. Once you are clear about the goal, your head can help you find the programs and organizations that are well-positioned to reach that goal.

A little research goes a long way

Unlike a decade ago, donors no longer need to spend days doing their own due diligence or trying to interpret tax returns in the hope of identifying a nonprofit worthy of their gift. Organizations like ours now exist to do the legwork so that individual donors can get to impact faster and with more confidence. The high impact opportunities profiled in this guide—and many more on our website—offer specific options that our team has analyzed for program efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Within each profile, we offer tips for getting involved in an issue, including what to look for in related nonprofits. Still can’t find what you’re looking for? You’ll find a wealth of free information on our website.

Think 'bang for your buck'

Not even the Gates Foundation has enough money to solve the problems it seeks to address. To do more good, every donor needs to ask, “How can my money go the farthest?” Comparing nonprofit organizations can help answer that question, but don’t just look at their expenses. That’s literally only half the equation. Instead, compare what the organization spends overall to what it achieves. For example, $1 donation can translate to enough food for 15 meals at a global food bank. At a harm-reduction center, $4 buys food for a day and $38 covers a dose of life-saving naloxone. $100 supports an individual student in a civics education program. $500 can connect five new families to home visit services for new mothers and infants. $1000 can provide transportation and utility payments to help support an individual who was previously homeless. Another way to think of bang for buck is to compare costs with societal benefits: $30 in societal benefits for every $1 spent on effective crime-reduction programs. That’s bang for buck thinking where the “buck” is the money a nonprofit has to spend and the “bang” is what it’s able to achieve with that money.

By focusing on the goal, doing a little research, and thinking bang for buck, donors can make sure their annual giving reflects more than generosity and good intentions. It allows for year-round social impact.