People become engaged in philanthropic causes for a variety of complex and often deeply personal reasons. In some cases it's a learned behavior, passed down from one generation to the next. For others, it might be the result of spiritual impulses or the desire to be part of something bigger than them. But for those fortunate enough to be in a position to help others, it's often gratitude that drives their philanthropic giving.
"When you want to give back to the university that educated you or the hospital that took care of your family, you might think of that kind of philanthropy as 'honored obligations,'" explains Audrey Truman, Senior Fiduciary Manager for Philanthropic Services for the Mid-Atlantic region at Wells Fargo Wealth Management. While you may support the school's mission to educate the next generation or the hospital's goal of caring for those in need, the main reason behind your gift is likely just to thank the organization for the service they provided to you or your loved ones.
Understanding your values
While many people with the resources to do so will dutifully tend to these "obligations" throughout their lives, a host of other motivations also drive giving. For some philanthropists, the chief reason might be helping their children understand that not everyone has the same privileges they do. Such valuable life lessons provide children with a broader and more informed perspective of the world around them. "Many times it's about teaching children the importance of gratitude, because they're often raised in environments where they don't face those same challenges that earlier generations did or even many in current society do. That's very important to many donors," Truman says.
Every community has its own unique set of worthy philanthropic causes; how and why people choose to respond to these causes is a very personal and intimate decision.
But even with honored obligations, the basis of giving is understanding your core values and crafting your overall philanthropic strategy to be more in line with those values. Every community has its own unique set of worthy philanthropic causes; how and why people choose to respond to these causes is a very personal and intimate decision. "The most important part about philanthropy is not your level of financial sophistication, but knowing your values and your story and sharing them with your family and the world," she says.
While institutions of higher education or health care organizations are perennial philanthropic causes, Truman notes there are many other types of nonprofits that clients make a deep connection with. "It could be a program that addresses poverty or the lack of justice. It could be an outreach program in a rural community, or a leadership program that exposes young people to new opportunities," she says. It all flows from an initial probing assessment of a client's value system.
Setting a plan
"We talk about the types of giving that have been most successful and most satisfying for them, and what was behind it," Truman explains of the Wells Fargo Wealth Management approach to understanding a client's philanthropic desires. "Sometimes there's alignment between a client's values and their past giving, and sometimes there isn't. Often, we find that clients hadn't really stopped to consider it much."
Once those motivations are known and understood, the next step is understanding the numerous vehicles available to you as well as how a planned giving strategy may be more effective than "one-off" gifts at the time gratitude strikes.
In the end, philanthropy can be a tangible expression of one's gratitude — a way to share it with the world. Says Truman: "Being grateful without expressing it is like coming up with the perfect a gift for someone and then never delivering it. Sharing your gratitude by giving back brings the feeling full circle, creating the possibility of joy and fulfillment to all involved."