The desire to give is one of humankind’s most powerful forces for good. But good intentions are just the beginning. The quality of our impact is what matters, not the intention. Our actions, not our rhetoric.
Arabella Advisors has advised the world’s leading philanthropists for the last 15 years, and we believe in the unprecedented potential of a new generation of changemakers to bring more wellbeing and progress into the world.
The Millennial generation stands to inherit perhaps the greatest amount of wealth in human history. Add to this transfer the unprecedented capital creation our generation’s young entrepreneurs and executives have driven and a game-changing opportunity emerges: We will have in our hands the means to meaningfully capitalize projects that alleviate suffering and increase opportunity for people and planet on an unprecedented scale.
We realize there are many who may be just at the beginning of their philanthropic journeys, people who ultimately have the means and the talent to achieve far-reaching impact and achieve lasting results. With the holiday season upon us, we decided to share some ideas about what they should consider before embarking on their journeys.
Follow Your Heart, While Using Your Head
Your passions and the issues that touch you personally should drive where you seek to make change—they are the torch that lights the way.
When you put your money where your passions are, you’ll be more likely to stay engaged, learn more, give again, and experience the deep reward of helping to advance a cause you care about. That’s good for you, good for your cause, and good for the efforts you wind up supporting.
Think about what is most meaningful to you and then talk to people who may share that same experience or interest to find out how they may have engaged already. Consider the scale of the problem you want to help solve and seek out the expert guidance you need. You wouldn’t start a business without understanding the market, the customers, the existing players, and the models that work and don’t. Starting on the path to life-changing impact involves a series of similar considerations and every bit as much strategic thinking.
Be Audacious—But More Importantly, Be Ready to Listen and Learn
Those with means can do much more than just write big checks. We can create change on an unprecedented scale. That said, there are no easy answers to the most difficult problems—and the most difficult problems are, in many ways, the ones most deserving of your time and attention.
If you haven’t already been working on them for years, it’s safe to assume you have a lot to learn. Your unique skills and fresh perspectives can certainly be assets, but you’ll have to use them wisely, in the full recognition that what you don’t know could hurt you—and, worse, hurt the very people you’re trying to help.
It’s important to approach all impact work with a learning mindset and a willingness to connect and create with others. Finding the right people to learn from and the best possible partners to make the journey with will be essential. And always include those you intend to help in the decision-making process and equity of the ideas you pursue. Remember this excellent advice: “Nothing about us without us.”
Use Every Tool Available
While the institutions of traditional philanthropy are still important, the toolkit for driving effective social change is bigger than it’s ever been.
Depending on the ultimate change you want to see, you may want to create a private foundation, or you may want to set up an LLC, or both, or neither. You may want to use a donor advised fund or a portfolio of impact investments. And you may want to support advocacy to drive policy change, build or join a donor collaborative, or even help launch a new global movement.
Real change takes significant time—often years and sometimes generations. Depending on the scope and scale of the goal you want to achieve, you should absolutely be prepared to play the long game. But by leveraging multiple tools, you can help accelerate impact in ways no previous generation of givers could.
Don’t Just Play an Instrument, Empower the Orchestra
Today, the most innovative change-makers have more potential routes to impact than philanthropy once imagined. Given all that optionality, they (and you!) are most likely to achieve their ultimate goals when they think carefully, from the start, about the relationships between and among the people, partners, and platforms that move social-impact efforts forward—and then invest time and resources accordingly.
Picking a single great-non-profit, grant, or gift can do a lot of good. But it’s a little like picking a single instrument out of the orchestra: Unless a lot of other instruments are playing together—in time, in key—even virtuoso individual playing will tend to disappear into the noise. You can wind up with cacophony rather than symphony. Similarly, the most impactful philanthropic efforts aren’t the ones that lift up a single instrument. They’re the ones that empower the orchestra. So take an ecosystems approach. Strengthen the whole. Coordinate. Collaborate. And move forward toward life-changing impact together.
Jeff Rosenthal is the co-founder of Summit, a cutting-edge organization best known for hosting its global ideas festivals and events. He serves on the boards of the Summit Institute, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Beyond Conflict, and Street Soccer USA as well as the Leadership Council of Conservation International. He recently joined Arabella Advisors as a senior advisor.
Eric Kessler is the founder of Arabella Advisors, a social enterprise that provides strategic guidance and implementation support to the the world’s leading philanthropists and impact investors. Eric is on the boards of the James Beard Foundation and the National Democratic Institute. He is also a long-time member of the Summit community.