Is passion still relevant in effective philanthropy?


The Philanthropic Initiative


Ellen Remmer

In a field buzzing with the drive to collect data, measure results, and support ‘what works’, it is becoming exceedingly uncomfortable to appear to derail discussions on the science of philanthropy by introducing the P-word. Yet passion – which can be culturally uncomfortable for many individuals who have been taught to restrain emotions and quell enthusiasm lest it cloud their analytical ability – can play a critical role in achieving deep social impact.

So why do we need passion in our philanthropy? Where does it come from? And more importantly, how do we muster and harness passion if it’s not yet there?

Passion is that mix of curiosity, enthusiasm and conviction that takes us beyond annual contributions into a sustained engagement with an issue, cause or organization. We all know people who approach everything in their lives with great verve and intensity. There are other people who lead with their intellect, and whose life choices are the results of careful thought and preparation but who are steadfast once decisions are made. Both of these types are capable of bringing passion to their philanthropy, but in reality most of us fall into neither category; we are always balancing the demand of our heads and hearts. Perhaps the best kind of philanthropist is one who is engaged on both the intellectual and emotional levels; one who can advance both the art and the science of their giving.

Passion in philanthropy is about making a commitment to your most important beliefs and values. It is not about zealotry and does not need to exclude other interests or approaches from your giving, but allows you to invest in a more fulfilling experience. ‘The alignment of one’s passion to one’s giving is often elusive, but worth the search,’ Peter Karoff, founder of TPI, once said. ‘The reward is that your giving becomes the best possible articulation of your core values and belief system and at the same time becomes a direct link to those issues you deem to be of greatest significance.’

While Peter says that the payoff is in the immense personal satisfaction that comes when your generosity is grounded in what you feel is important, bringing passion to your giving will also:

  • Fuel your personal initiative – Passion gives you the energy and momentum not just to execute but to lead. With all the demands for our limited philanthropic dollars and time, it is likely that only the most deeply felt causes will stir your initiative.
  • Surmount roadblocks and disappointments – When results do not meet expectations, a deep commitment to the larger visions will help you address the challenges and look for alternative solutions. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’
  • Derive greater satisfaction – The more you put in, the more you get out. Remember when soda bottles used to read ‘no deposit, no return’?
  • Feed you personal growth and creativity – As you become intensely engaged in an issue or organization, you will notice how the experience contributes to your own growth.
  • Inspire others to support the effort – In addition to enthusiasm being contagious, sharing your visions is the most powerful way to attract and retain partners who can provide the needed expertise, resources and a broader community of support for your cause.
  • Have greater impact – The more focused and committed you are to an issue, the more likely it is that you will make a real difference.

The heart and soul of a donor can spring from any number of emotions, experiences and aspirations. Some people are intense and visionary by nature while others are affected by a significant event, or are stirred more slowly over time. Philanthropists who come to their causes from personal experience often emerge as powerful leaders. In our work with donors, we’ve found these to be the most cited sources of deep personal involvement:

  • A dream that powers inspiration and imagination
  • Frustration or anger that fuels a sense of urgency
  • Compelling evidence that builds to action
  • An individual or event that is profoundly moving
  • Gratitude that creates the urge to give back
  • A personal or family experience that has an impact
  • A desire to honour a family member or friend that becomes important

Do you feel passion in your giving? What are your sources for this drive and enthusiasm? For many donors, experiences such as these may have seeded their passion, but obstacles have kept them from developing and thus kept them from playing a greater role in achieving impact. For more on nurturing your passion, including tools and exercises to help you find it, download TPI’s primer Passion: Discovering the Meaning in Your Philanthropy.

Ellen Remmer is CEO and president of The Philanthropic Initiative

This post was first published on the TPI blog

Tagged in: Motivation Passion Personal experience philanthropy

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