30 lessons in pursuit of deep social impact: finding vision, refining focus, and determining goals


Leslie Pine


When TPI celebrated its 30th anniversary, we shared 30 lessons learned through our three decades of working with ambitious, thoughtful, and creative donors to increase the impact of their philanthropy.

To help guide those looking to achieve deep social impact with their philanthropy, we’ve broken down these 30 lessons into six different themes. Over the next few months, we will be sharing a blog post on each theme. First up? Five lessons relating to vision, focus, and goals. For some funders, this work is “step 1” – finding your philanthropic vision, defining or refining your focus, and determining your goals are all useful first steps for those looking to act boldly and give wisely. For others, it is helpful to first get some experience with grantmaking that can inform your thinking. And for virtually all funders, it is valuable to take a step back periodically to revisit and perhaps refine or revise vision, focus, and goals.

Think big
Change requires many incremental steps – and one bold long-term vision. I love Norman Vincent Peale’s advice: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Be a practical idealist. Vision inspires. Aspirational goals guide action. Short-term successes keep you in the game.

Find your focus
Start with what you care about most. We have worked with many funders who come to realize that their giving is “an inch deep and a mile wide.” Focus allows you to explore how and with whom you can make a difference – and can provide the discipline to go deeper and achieve greater impact.

Articulate your goals
Settling on a focus area is a start – the next step is to set some specific goals to work towards. Define what you hope to accomplish through your philanthropy, and use those goals to guide your learning and investigation of specific funding opportunities.

Take the long view
Social change is incremental at best. Those who are tackling challenging needs and issues know well that if the problem was easy to solve, it would have been solved by now.

Don’t be discouraged by limited resources
Small grants, when targeted in highly strategic ways, can have great impact. As just one example, we have seen teachers engage students in hands-on learning projects with the help of mini-grants as small as $500. Funders of all sizes can make a difference.

Where are you in creating a vision, focus, and goals for your philanthropy? What would you share based on your experience?

Don’t forget to check back next month for our next set of lessons relating to strategy.

Leslie Pine is managing director at the Philanthropic Initiative

Tagged in: Funding practice

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