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Feb 12, 2019

How Charitable Intentions Can Become Smart Giving

By using niche publicity and building networks of high net worth donors, entrepreneurs can improve returns from philanthropic projects.

Back in the day, when a business leader made a big donation to a local hospital, school or library, it would typically be publicized by a picture of the smiling donor holding a giant check and shaking hands with the head of the organization receiving the money.

Those corny pictures, inevitably a faceless line-up of suits, are less common now as business leaders use a wider variety of methods for raising publicity about their philanthropic work.

But whether you use social media (as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos did in 2017), traditional media (newspapers, business magazines, etc.) or your own contacts book, it’s tricky to get the right amount of publicity.

Too much publicity could not only damage your reputation (people may unfairly presume your philanthropy is only about your ego) but also the finances of the cause or organization you’re trying to help. Other high net worth individuals may read the national publicity and presume that the charity will be deluged with donations, so there’s no point getting involved.

The smartest philanthropists I know go for niche publicity. Basically, it’s smart giving, with potentially lucrative outcomes for the beneficiaries. Rather than using the national or local media for publicizing their cause, they’ll target publications (financial or lifestyle magazines, for example) with a small readership of wealthy people, some of whom will be interested in philanthropy, and if even a few of those are encouraged to add to the pot, it’s a win for the charity when $1 million becomes $5 million.

Then there are philanthropic networks and membership organizations. Some of the largest ones include the Philanthropy Workshop (a network of more than 450 global leaders with offices in San Francisco, New York and London) and the Global Philanthropy Forum, a membership organization of individual donors, social investors and leaders of grantmaking institutions and foundations.

Investment banks and wealth advisors are another option for discreet and targeted publicity and networking. Many, such as UBS, have philanthropic business units that work with ultra high net worth individuals.

These advisory services reflect changes in philanthropy, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Philanthropy is getting more professional, and the ultra-wealthy donor seems to be getting younger. There’s more focus on “effective altruism”—analyzing whether donations in time or money are creating the greatest possible benefits for worthy causes—which is appealing to entrepreneurs and CEOs who are used to justifying all aspects of their business to investors and finding new ways to cuts costs and improve profits.

It’s also worth consideringnaming your philanthropic venture after someone other than yourself, because this can go a long way toward widening its appeal. Plus, a wider range of donors will make a philanthropic organization avoid the dependency trap of being reliant on one person.

Getting your employees to buy in to your philanthropy can also widen its appeal if they become advocates for the cause to their friends, family and business contacts. So forget the big checks and mass-media appeals. Today’s business leaders know that when it comes to publicity about their philanthropy, less can mean more.

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