Often times in our charitable giving, we don't give much thought to the finer points. We might not know who to give to, how much to give or whether our gift is actually having an impact. In looking more closely at our overall giving—smart, impactful, focused, and intentional giving—it is more complicated than it seems at first glance. I recently read a US Trust Study that was conducted in partnership with The Philanthropic Initiative dealing with the topic of philanthropic conversation between professional advisors and high net worth (HNW) individuals. While the study dealt with HNW individuals specifically, it is reflective of the common fate we all face in addressing our charitable giving. The challenge is the same for any potential donor and revolves around connecting our heart with our head to make smart, impactful decisions.
Heart and Head: the Balanced Horizon
When I refer to the heart, I’m referring to the giving heart we all have as an inherent part of our humanity. There is a basic need in each of us to give to others. The heart is the “above the horizon” instinct driven by emotion and guided by a moral compass incorporating personal values. When I refer to the head, I’m referring to our rational, practical thought process that is also a part of our charitable giving. The head is the “below the horizon” intuition lead by logic and reason that keeps us grounded in the practical application of our values.
The need to give and the decision to do so is predominantly led by the heart—our giving heart. We give to our family, our neighbors, our community, and other causes that are beyond ourselves. But with this inherent need to give comes a unique set of challenges. One of the most common challenges those who want to give of their time, talents, or treasure face is identifying the cause or passion that is truly important to them. The philanthropic conversation on identifying and connecting with the emotional side of charitable giving is a conversation dealing with "sentimental" topics including, but not limited to, life lessons, passing on family values and traditions, meaningful causes, noteworthy institutions, significant life events—the key emotional attachments from your life’s story. These discussions inevitably offer insight into the reasons you want to give back, make a difference in this world, and therefore bring meaning to your life.
“A thorough conversation about giving includes both rational and practical matters, as well as questions of attachment, meaning, and values.”
This more emotional philanthropic conversation on these subjects is in the wheelhouse of the liberal arts and humanities, philosophy, the religious and faith traditions, counselors, and sociology. Most professional advisors—the "head" advisors—such as attorneys, wealth managers, CPAs, and other professionals do not typically engage in conversation with their clients about these sorts of heart issues for numerous reasons, which brings us to the challenges of bridging our heart with our head.
So let's take a look at the thinking head and its role in our charitable giving. Normally, we do not give much thought to giving for a number of reasons—our busy lives, family obligations, our work life—are all common distractions. Often times, individuals with a giving heart are not aware of and hence do not ask the right questions when it comes to initiating giving. If we are fortunate enough to have the resources to give, which may include financial resources, we may not have a process or knowledge of all the tools and techniques needed to make smart, impactful decisions. If we are to seek some guidance for "head" related decisions, we tend to seek guidance from wealth advisors, CPAs, attorneys, or in some cases good friends that are knowledgeable and more experienced than us when it comes to charitable giving.
Giving with Your Whole Self
Thus we have two distinct components that need to be connected for smart, impactful giving that brings meaning to our lives. If we can connect our emotional heart and awaken the passion within us to identify the reasons for our giving, then we can begin bridging the gap between our giving hearts and thinking heads. This will make us feel really good about our giving, provide purpose to our lives, and most importantly, prompt social change within our little part of the world resulting in a measurable impact spurred on by our intentional giving.
Once we recognize our inherent need to give, wake up our passions to give back, and then find the tools, processes, techniques, and other resources that assist in truly making a difference in the lives of others, an authentic and very real impact can be seen and felt.
To that end, we need a process to bridge these two worlds—that of the "heart" pertaining to the spirit, sociology, philosophy, and humanities with the "head" dealing with rational thinking, practicality, legal processes and other real-world means. Through my own readings, assessments, and personal experiences, there are seven essential questions that provide the foundation and lays out the roadmap for our journey toward intentional, meaningful, effective, and impactful giving from our own. I have coined these as the "7 Essential Questions for Smart Giving" and will cover the process and specific questions in more detail in future blogs. So, stay tuned!
Let's Do Some Good!
Coming Next: The 3 Major Categories of Beneficiaries of Your Giving Generosity