July 8, 2022
Column: To become more effective, philanthropy must go deeper

By Stacey Landry and Michelle


The need for innovative, effective philanthropy that forges deep connections between people and causes has never been greater.

Nor has the time been more ripe for it.

A global pandemic and a heightened national awareness of longstanding racial and social injustices have intensified our collective interest in improving the quality of life in our local communities. At the same time, a shift to a more inclusive definition of philanthropy — one that prioritizes investments of time and talent as well as treasure — has elevated the voices of a new, more diverse cohort of changemakers, while significantly impacting the way “traditional” philanthropists view their roles as agents for social change.

“Overall, these expansions of the definitions of ‘philanthropy’ and ‘philanthropists’ acknowledge the myriad ways in which we collectively engage and mobilize our generosity to improve our communities,” Michael Layton, the W.K. Kellogg Chair for Community Philanthropy at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, wrote in a recent report on philanthropic trends.

Of course, we can all agree that moving the needle on Essex County’s greatest social challenges ultimately relies on the availability of financial resources. But effective philanthropy — that is, to put it simply, philanthropy that maximizes impact — embraces as one of its tenets the idea that there is so much more to creating sustainable change in our communities than the number of zeros written on a check.

“What we’re seeing at the foundation are more and more people coming to us asking, ‘How can I really make a difference here?’” said Beth Francis, president and CEO of Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), one of nearly 700 community foundations across the country that lead and support place-based giving. “Then we talk about the realities. What’s happening in our communities? Who is doing what work? Ultimately, we want to match a real community need with a donor’s values and interests. We want to inspire people into action.”

At their core, community foundations, as part of their mission, support the entire local giving ecosystem. They provide education, services and products, like Donor Advised Funds and personalized giving plans, to people who want to elevate their impact on local communities. They offer financial and capacity-building support to nonprofit organizations and they initiate regional efforts to tackle social challenges impacting the cities and towns in the region they serve. Certainly, community foundations play a very unique role in advancing effective philanthropy.

But whether you partner with a community foundation like ECCF for your charitable giving, or you give directly to the nonprofits you care about, there are some calls to action we believe every donor, regardless of shape or size, can and should answer to maximize charitable impact.

Learn about the challenges and root causes facing a community.

Efforts to truly understand a community and the specific challenges its residents face can result in philanthropic support that unites donors and nonprofits in finding solutions.

Align philanthropy with personal values.

Seeking giving opportunities that match core values not only adds meaning to a donor’s philanthropy, but this deeper connection also inspires long-term partnerships.

Build trusting relationships with the nonprofits you support.

Find organizations that are doing good work on the ground and trust them to know how to best leverage your support. Relationships built on trust, openness and understanding result in sustainable impact.

Be curious about what organizations really need to make a difference.

Unrestricted gifts. Organizational capacity. Initiative support. Capital campaigns. Each of these needs are very different. Knowing exactly what nonprofits need to fulfill their missions will help ensure your support is proactive and effective.

Understand that resources alone don’t result in impact.

Money can’t solve everything. In addition to financial resources, nonprofits also often need human capital — donations of time and talent — to be successful.

Embark on your giving journey with a generous, optimistic spirit.

Approaching charitable giving with hope and an open mind will create pathways for collaboration and collective action that can multiply meaningful impact.

Across Essex County, we are navigating historic challenges, and so the time to invest more effectively in our communities is now. But to do this, we need donors who are willing to dig deeper, think strategically and embrace the critical role they can play in improving the quality of life in our region.

To learn more about how to increase the effectiveness of your philanthropy, please reach out to Stacey at s.landry@eccf.org or visit eccf.org.

Stacey Landry is Essex County Community Foundation’s director of strategic giving and gift planning. Michelle Xiarhos Curran is the foundation’s communications writer.

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