Text reads Supporting Sustainable and Compassionate Solutions Field Workers at Njoro, Kenya - Photo Credit: Petr Kosina/CIMMYT

Recommendations for Effective Philanthropy.


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Recommendations for Effective Philanthropy

Introduction to Improving Impact Philanthropy
By Peter Brach, Ed.M.


Unfortunately, a major cause of extensive and unnecessary suffering is due to ineffective philanthropy. But the good news is that the field of Impact Philanthropy continues to gain traction among nonprofits, foundations and public sector agencies. This article offers an introduction to this vital topic with suggestions to help readers new to the field increase understanding and improve the impact of their gifts.

Donating to Nonprofits

Organizations such as CharityWatch, Charity Navigator and Guidestar are among the good places to begin your investigation of effective nonprofits, even though their websites are limited in their capacity to analyze efficacy. For example, Charity Navigator lists the percentage of donations received that go to running programs. This, unfortunately, does not explain how program money is spent, how effectively and why.

You can also analyze a nonprofit’s Form 990 (available on Guidestar), fundraising plans, strategic plans, annual reports and financial statements (available either on nonprofit rating sites or upon request). But those intending to make large gifts or change from a familiar giving pattern might consider working with a Planned Giving Advisor, a consultant knowledgeable about evaluating nonprofit operations, or both.

Consider factors such as the age of the charitable organization, its track record, the competency and experience of its board, advisors, staff, partners and volunteers; its assets and liabilities, program strategies, reputation in the news; how it handles existing and potential donors, articulates its mission and vision statements, and your overall subjective impression about the professionalism of the organization.

Strategic Partnership Alliances

Critical to the continued improvement of impact philanthropy is the cultivation of effective strategic partnerships. Too often, organizations work in isolation to bite off a small piece of a big problem. This approach can significantly diminish results. To illustrate, suppose an organization decides to build and run a school in a poor village in Kenya, East Africa. However, after beginning the program, they discover that the local disease rate is very high as are absentees of students and teachers! Had they developed partnerships that handle healthcare needs or chosen a village that already benefited from an NGO managing such problems, their initiative would likely have been much more successful.

Feasibility & Threats

If possible, factor in feasibility and threats before giving money to philanthropy (A full SWOT analysis looks at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.) For example, suppose a nonprofit seeks to add a wing to its health clinic. However, they fail to conduct a feasibility study that would regard this capital campaign as being currently risky. Or, suppose an American nonprofit begins relief work in a country that is clearly politically unstable. Two years later they are forced to evacuate due to civil unrest. If you had donated in either instance, you might have been the victim of organizational shortsightedness.

Capacity for replication and scalability

To maximize the potential reach of a program it is important to analyze the capacity for replication and scalability. To site an example, ICRISAT has conducted rigorous agricultural research to develop seeds that can produce large varieties of food in semi-arid climates. That sounds great! It appears that poor farmers who would otherwise be fighting for survival in places such as sub-Saharan Africa will not only have ways to feed themselves and their families, they will be able to compete in local markets. However, overcoming the barriers to education and adoption of new methods among farmers steeped in long-held traditional seed planting practices can be formidable.

Now let’s assume that through rigorous field-testing, a simple and inexpensive approach for delivering effective education and making adoption easy is developed for these farmers. In this instance, the capacity for achieving replication and scalabilty would be greater.


This article provided an introduction for those interested in improving the impact of their time and money. Numerous other areas of impact philanthropy warrant continued study. In the future, our foundation hopes to publish materials on topics including low cost product development, impact investments, business development and cooperative ventures between the private, formal and public sectors. We seek opportunities to collaborate with peers and welcome opportunities to exchange information on the shared journey toward improving world conditions.

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