CHECKLIST: How To Become An Impactful Philanthropist

Use our giving checklist to be intentional about when, where, and how you support the causes that matter to you.


You don’t need to be a millionaire to become a philanthropist. Simply put, a philanthropist is someone who promotes the welfare of others, most commonly through charitable giving to nonprofits. Whether you donate $10 or $10,000, if you follow the seven steps of our giving checklist, your results will be stronger and longer-lasting.

    □ Determine what causes to support.

    The first step is figuring out, “What do I care about the most?” Here are six guiding questions to help you get started:

      1. What local, national, or global causes get you excited?
      2. What problems do you hope to see corrected?
      3. Is there an issue in your community that keeps you up at night?
      4. Is there an area where you have expertise or want to learn more?
      5. What opportunities have changed your life and should be available to more people?
      6. Is there a population (such as women, LGBTQ, children, or refugees) you care most about supporting?

    Search for common themes in your answers—they will likely reveal one or two areas of passion that you are willing to explore and invest in over your lifetime.

    □ Focus your efforts.

    There are millions of wonderful nonprofits around the world, but you can’t support them all. If you would like to make a deeper impact, consider giving larger amounts to a handful of organizations you trust. By focusing on a few organizations to start, you can gain confidence in your understanding of how they work—just as you can when you focus on a specific cause area.

    □ Do some research.

    If you are having a tough time developing your own portfolio of trusted nonprofits, a little research might help you determine how to proceed. Review the annual reports of nonprofits of interest and seek out more information from nonprofit information hubs and independent evaluations. This step doesn’t have to be complicated—a simple Google or Facebook search could reveal a lot! Before making a larger gift, consider visiting the nonprofit, volunteering, or speaking with staff or other donors.

    □ Budget your giving.

    When creating your giving budget, think through how much you might like to donate in the coming year. Do you want to donate a portion of your income or a certain dollar amount annually? Do your spending habits reflect what you care about? Are there small budget adjustments you could make to amplify your charitable impact, such as nixing a fancy latte once a week or bringing your lunch more often? Use our Giving Goals Generator to explore your options. For tax purposes, you may also want to speak with an accountant or consult IRS resources before giving.

    □ Give consistently.

    Becoming a recurring donor means that the nonprofit you support can rely on your contributions month after month or year after year and make more strategic decisions about its future. Many nonprofits make it easy to set up a recurring gift, which works just like a subscription service with the goal of making regular giving easy.

    □ Consider how you can add value in other ways.

    You might be able to help by volunteering your time and skills or even becoming a board member. Depending on the nonprofit’s needs, you may be able to offer additional support by signing up for committee, recommending the nonprofit to friends or sharing why you support the nonprofit on social media.

    □ Don’t get tripped up by charitable giving myths.

    An important part of becoming an impactful philanthropist is separating charitable giving myths—like the idea that you can judge the impact of a nonprofit by the amount it spends on overhead—from reality. There are better ways to measure impact, such as looking a nonprofit’s record of achievement, seeing how transparently it operates, and finding out how responsive it is to the needs of the people (or animals) it exists to serve. You should be able to discover most of this information online or through your personal interactions with a nonprofit, including volunteering, an in-person visit, or a phone call. Learn more about common charitable myths that you have the power to overcome.

Did you find this giving checklist helpful? Explore more resources in the Smart Giving 101 Series.

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