Giving has never been so easy.
Thanks largely to the Internet, there are now countless causes and seemingly infinite ways to help our fellow man. Just a few clicks lets us buy seed and fertilizer for a farmer in Kenya or mosquito nets to fight malaria in India. Within hours of a hurricane, we can start pumping money into crippled communities. Last year alone, Miami-Dade and Broward counties gave nearly $1.4 billion, placing both in the top 50 counties of more than 3,000 surveyed by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
But is our money really doing what we intend?
Effective giving has always been the challenge for the philanthropic. And while the Internet connects donors to causes faster and easier than ever before, it has also intensified scrutiny and created a new class of fabulously wealthy philanthropists creating charities on their own terms, with their own innovative and sometimes more complex goals.
So while giving money has become easier, making sure it works is now more complicated.
For some like Karen Fryd, who runs a one-woman grass-roots organization, effective giving is measured by the heart and in small increments. It’s the smile on a sixth-grader’s face as he tightens the tie on a new school uniform she helped provide. For others, like Saif Ishoof, it calls for something drastic, like leaving behind the riches of the corporate world to take a position at a nonprofit he believes in.
We may base our decisions on social concerns or geography: giving kids a chance to learn alongside a master cellist or helping a shopkeeper in Tajikistan. Or we may look for sustainability and relevance: “Will my contribution matter in 10 years? Will it make a difference tomorrow?
“Effective is one of those words where everyone may have a different idea of what that is,” said David Biemesderfer, president and CEO of the Florida Philanthropic Network. “One of the first pieces of advice I always give donors in terms of deciding where to give is to think about what they are interested in personally. What is their personal passion?”
Indeed, passion seems to be a universally recognized factor in the equation.
“You have to develop a passion,” said Sue Miller, whose philanthropic work tends to be large-scale, long-term and runs in the family. In addition to helping raise more than $130 million for the United Way over the last 30 years, as well as a broad swath of other South Florida causes, her family contributed $100 million to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“You have to have a passion for your organization or whatever you’re trying to stimulate in the community. And once you develop that passion, it becomes second nature.”
But the dramatically changing philanthropic landscape requires us to navigate it differently. The means have certainly changed. And in some cases, the ends have also changed.
“There’s the technology that allows for greater participation and transparency, leading to programs that can engage the crowd. And then there is a change in the understanding of the role of philanthropy that moves from charity to social investment,” said Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the state’s largest foundation with annual grants totaling above or near $100 million.