Philanthropy Impact

Inspiring philanthropy and social investment across borders, sectors and causes

Defining a focus

 

Highlights

  • Focused giving provides you with opportunities to learn more about the causes you care about, and over time refine your giving to achieve maximum impact.
  • It is often useful to combine three variables to find your funding focus once you’ve thought about your objectives for giving.
  • If you’re finding it difficult to identify your focus, it can be useful to narrow down causes under headings detailed below.
Read more about Defining a focus

 

You may already know specifically where you want to direct your donations. But many people find it hard to prioritise the range of pressing social and environmental needs – should I support children’s hospices, save a dying species or provide scholarships for rural Africans? There is no right or wrong answer, and many people choose to spread their giving across multiple issues. But if you are able to define a clear focus for your giving, it will allow you to move from giving on an ad-hoc reactive basis to planned, strategic giving which aims to tackle specific issues close to your heart. Focused giving provides you with opportunities to learn more about the causes you care about, and over time refine your giving to achieve maximum impact.

It is often useful to combine three variables to find your funding focus once you’ve thought about your objectives for giving. These variables are your interests and passions, areas of need (where can your support make the most difference), and the ways you can help (your available resources such as money, time, contacts, and skills). By combining these, you will find a focus that is both valuable and personally rewarding.

Benefits of focused funding
By focusing your funding, you can build up knowledge and expertise which is not possible when your funding covers a wide range of issues.

When you have a focus you can research an issue to really understand the need and how to tackle it. For example, donors who want to support homelessness may find that there are adequate soup kitchens in their area, but identify a need for giving homeless people the skills and resources to help them into employment, so that eventually they can find their own accommodation. Donors may also find some types of work that are very valuable, but underfunded.

As you build experience in an area you will be in a better position to confidently select charities which align with your priorities and make a real difference. Over time you will develop an opinion on which interventions and charities are effective, and thereby take a strategic approach to achieving change and charitable impact. As you see the change that you’re making, giving becomes more rewarding and engaging.

There are practical advantages to defining a funding focus. It provides you with a clear funding identity and strategy to communicate to external partners. This is one way to discourage applications from unsuitable candidates: it is much easier to say no to projects which don’t fit with your focus. Having a clear funding focus also makes it easier to get to know other funders with similar interests who you can share expertise with.

Where to start
If you’re finding it difficult to identify your focus, it can be useful to narrow down causes under the headings of people (for example, children, women, specific ethnic groups etc), geography (for example your local community, city, country or group of developing countries etc), or issue (for example, mental health, human rights, poverty). However there is a balance between narrowing the focus too far and losing flexibility in your funding decisions, and stretching your resources too thinly across a range of projects.

In some cases you may find that the people involved in your funding (for example family members or company directors involved with corporate philanthropy) may not agree on one focus area. One way to bring together a range of interests and passions is to divide the overall amount you want to give into separate pots of a defined size, with different members deciding the focus for each. You may also want to keep a portion of your funding aside in a discretionary pot to react to requests or issues as they arise.

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