In such unprecedented times, many find themselves asking: How can I help? I want to donate time and money to something that will help. There is so much need. Where do I turn to find out what to do? How can I trust that my gift won’t be misused?
Financial advisors, family, friends, and even neighbors are turned to with these questions. I heard similar sentiments my whole career in grantmaking for corporations, but most often in my two decades at United Way when I worked on behalf of hundreds of thousands of donors. My answer is always to lead with your heart and choose with your head.
Some may look to personal and family life experiences of hardship, illness, or transformative events. You probably can easily think of experiences in your life that transformed your perspective and added to the list of things you care deeply about. These are how others have answered this question:
Others look to wrongs they have observed around them. What have you observed around you that leaves you wanting to do something to help? These are how others have answered this question:
What are you passionate about? That becomes your philanthropic focus. Multiple answers are common. So create your own list and see where it takes you.
This question still calls for you to look into your heart, which provides focus as you begin to look at all the many opportunities to donate.
Think about where you want to make a difference geographically. Think about the characteristics of the population you want to aid. And finally: think about the kind of response that makes the most sense to you.
Now is the time to bring in your head.
There are a myriad of nonprofit organizations working on the same focus as your passion. These organizations vary in quality, expertise, action, and focus. Choosing which one to trust with your money is similar to the Impact Investing decisions Cogent’s clients make. Look at several possible options as a starting point using these guiding principles:
You are not alone in this journey. Public information is available to inform these decisions.
Some experts can choose on your behalf:
When your heart aches – that is the first step to making an impact. By acknowledging the ache and what caused it, you are ready to make a difference. Donations of energy and money can only be enhanced with informed investment practices. You can transform your passion into real philanthropic investments that really make a difference.
Terri Barreiro is a mission-driven venture advisor and an expert in systems change. She instructs Social Entrepreneurship at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota. She is co-founder of and volunteer venture coach at Impact Hub MSP and consultant to nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.
She is the founder of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship serving the College of Saint Benedict and Saint Johns’ University and co-authored Social Entrepreneurship: From Issue to Viable Plan. She brings to her work more than 30 years of experience as a nationally recognized nonprofit and philanthropy leader with extensive experience in United Way, corporate giving, and family foundation operations. She earned an MBA and BA cum laude at the University of Minnesota and completed an Executive MBA program at Carnegie Mellon University. She has enjoyed volunteering throughout her life, currently serving on the boards of Community Giving, Close Gaps by 5, Folk School Warroad, Market Access Fund, and Impact Hub MSP. Birding and nurturing native gardens and prairies are how she shares her leisure hours with her husband.
When COVID-19 and the ensuing economic disruption hit, I worried that impact investing would recede as investors sought comfort in old-style investing and social entrepreneurs kept their day jobs. Luckily, my worries were for naught: more investors are interested in doing good and doing well. More philanthropists are looking for innovative ways to address the multiple crises we face: health, economic, racial, civic, climate, and rural. Social entrepreneurs are launching and growing their ideas to address the world's problems. These leaders give me hope!