Personalized Philanthropy and the Four Donors - Part 6 of 6

Personalized Philanthropy and the Four Donors - Part 6 of 6

Parables for Radically Rethinking Your Philanthropy
Article posted in Values-Based on 23 September 2014| comments
audience: National Publication, Steven L. Meyers, Ph.D. | last updated: 23 September 2014


In the final section of the series Steven Meyers continues on the path of personalized philanthropy and asks us to consider its impact and effectiveness. He clearly raises our awareness and sharpens our thinking with this interesting paradigm.

by Steven L. Meyers, Ph.D.

Three Pillars of Personalized Philanthropy

Key Points:

  • What are the lessons donors can teach us about personalized philanthropy
  • What questions can we consider when approaching our gift?
  • How does the Passover story of the 4 children relate to philanthropy?

Hopefully, this booklet about the Four Donors will raise as many questions as it answers, and then some. To provide some insight into my own thinking and the questions I’ve asked, here are three lessons that I have learned from the donors referenced. I think you will find that these lessons permeate all of the examples and help to inform the shaping and design of each of the gift plans, matched to the interests of the individual donors and to the compelling needs of the organizations they care about. To me these questions and insights point to better ways to do Effective Philanthropy, powered by Personalized Gift Design.

Message in a Bottle: Three Keys to Effective Personalized Philanthropy
(For any soulful season of giving)

I like to think about the Three Keys as if it were a forgotten fragment a message in a bottle written by a philanthropist long ago. It was sent (floated) by the author in the hope it would be found by the People Who Want to Make a Plan, but too often have come up against the crush of reality: Life is what happens when youre busy making other plans (John Lennon). Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face (Mike Tyson). Whether you are a philanthropist or a fundraiser, this message resonates for people seeking to understand and act on their charitable impulse. This message in a bottle seems relevant all year long, at any soulful season of giving.

Imagine that you found the bottle and read this message.

  1. Give with a warm hand – My friend said it was better to give with a warm hand than a cold one. She meant it, and did it. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase from Warren Buffett, “Giving While Living.” Giving with a warm hand is the Big Idea behind that. It also shapes the Giving Pledge, which has encouraged so many philanthropists to designate at least half of their estates for helping others. So, if you feel charitable, it’s up to you to decide what you want to happen with your gift. Go ahead and make your statement. You do not have to defer or leave this important life-defining decision to someone else.
  1. Give with a warm heart – Besides giving while living, you can give as you live, with passion and a warm heart. Share that. To something meaningful to you. Start now. Aim high. Scale-up and go long. Make a habit of giving. You can achieve much more by combining current with future gifts for something important to you. Most charities will allow you to target or restrict your gift. The really enlightened ones encourage it. You can start with something do-able now and yet grow the impact of your support with each additional gift.
  1. Give with a cool head – Give smart. Not just from your heart. Employ the powerful tools of personalized philanthropy and smart advisors who can show you how. It’s possible and even OK to benefit your loved ones and yourself from your giving. Bequests, charitable trusts, gift annuities, charitable insurance and retirement plans. Especially bequests. Find out about virtual endowments and how to build equity in your endowment. This way, you can create a lasting legacy, and it can begin now.

They say this is how philanthropy used to be done. This is how it will be done in the future.

A Few Thought Questions

  1. Would you give with a “warm hand” if you could? If you consider giving with a warm hand to mean not only giving while alive, but directing and designating the use of your future gifts, does that way of thinking open up the possibilities for you to give more or give differently?  Do you believe that your legacy should be decided by someone else; if not you, who?
  2. When one thinks of meeting a donor “where they are,” where would you think of yourself on the spectrum?  In the range and capacity from wise (Astute) – wicked (Questioning) – simple (Curious) – doesn’t know how to ask (Searching), where are you?  Are you always in the same place or is there a variance from time to time?  If you are giving away your treasure, what should you expect to gain from your gifts?
  3. Do you expect a financial return, a spiritual redemption, or other sense of ROI of “impact” and change? If you could, would you like to have more personal and interactive relationship with representatives of the organization or cause whose programs and projects will ultimately benefit from your support and generosity? Would you like to gain access to special people?
  4. Do these personalized giving techniques help you see new ways to give? Endowment is a very specific investment and management concept to nonprofit administrators. But, to you as a donor it may mean simply ensuring that a goal will continue to be met long into the future. Which is most important to you, the investment of the endowment or the use of the funds to achieve a goal? How do you set the balance?
  5. Does it seem reasonable and possible to borrow familiar concepts from the rest of your life (say, the idea of a mortgage) and import them into philanthropy? Have you encountered charitable organizations that allow you to “build equity” in your endowment while also have it work at full capacity, as in these examples? If not, are you willing and able to lead the way and show them how? Sometimes donors go from “one who does not know how to ask” to one who leads.
  6. Can you see how some of the basic building blocks of philanthropy – the seemingly modest outright gifts you make ever year, for example -- could become the basis of a much more powerful gift later on? Have you thought about making a commitment over multiple years, instead of one year at a time, and what that could mean to an institution you care about?
  7. If you decided to lead with your annual gifts (and turn a traditional endowment on its head), how could your ultimate gift have even greater impact than if you used those modest gifts to grow an endowment?
  8. Using personalized philanthropy, how might you reconfigure your own approaches to giving to achieve greater impact and recognition, starting now?

The Passover Haggadah and Philanthropy
By Rabbi Steven Steinberg

Let me set some context for this unusual little volume, since “The Four Donors” takes off from the Passover story of the Four Children.

The Passover Haggadah is a small manual used to structure the setting for a meal. The manual combines elements of Biblical literature, rabbinic literature, medieval stories, songs, ancient and recent, and modern literature.

The structure of the Haggadah is open and allows for the addition of materials. The themes of the manual are the movement from slavery to freedom, both physical and psychological, and the concomitant feeling of moving from shame to glory.

While Passover celebrates a Jewish holiday, these are universal themes. Many cultures and varying religious groups have adopted and adapted the meal and the manual to their unique circumstances.

The meal takes elements of two ancient Middle Eastern celebrations, a Springtime harvest festival and the birth of lambs, places them in a Hebrew Biblical context, adds on Jewish rabbinical themes and superimposes all that on a typical Greco-Roman symposium or meal, reinterpreting the Greco-Roman rituals to fit Jewish religious themes.

Imagine a McDonald's Happy Meal reinterpreted in a religious context.

Then over the next two thousand years songs, artwork and contemporary pieces of literature are added (or older ones omitted) to more closely align the Haggadah with a particular local culture.

The entire document is structured as if answering questions of the uninitiated. Thus the rituals leading to the actual meal are treated as teaching tools.

The number four is used as a literary tool in the Haggadah. Thus there are four sons/children who ask four questions. There are four cups of wine to be imbibed.

Certainly there are obvious analogies between the ideals of the Haggadah and the ideals of philanthropy. Since the Four Sons is an all-inclusive trope: I’m in, I’m out, I haven’t thought about that question, and I didn’t know one could ask questions, there is a ready comparison that can be made to four types of donors who are seeking an education as to why to do philanthropy. 

The Four Sons is an all-inclusive trope: I’m in, I’m out, I haven’t thought about that question, and I didn’t know one could ask questions.

The Haggadah as well as philanthropy stresses the communal responsibility of all participants. Both remind us of the hazards of the world that require attention.

Both hope to take us from need to success and our right to celebrate that success.

Both remind us that the task is unending.

Previous Articles:

1)  Why Isn’t All Philanthropy Personalized Philanthropy?

2)  Bringing Change to the World Through Personalized Philanthropy

3) The Grail of Fundraising – Personalized Philanthropy for the Four Donors Within You

4) The Power of Spending Rate to Transform Philanthropy

5) The Cross-Fertilization of Finance and Philanthropy

Click here to download a print-friendly version of this entire series.

Dear Reader,

If you enjoy(ed) the series on the 4 donors, or even if you haven't, please let me know your thoughts about it at The opening note points out that at first blush the 4 donors might be confusing, because it attempts to solve a problem that many people (donors, gift officers, advisors) don't know they have. How (donors) can we arrange our gifts in such a way that our recognition and impact can begin now? Does it really have to be deferred or denied during our lifetime? Is it wrong or even wicked of us to seek this gratification in our lifetime. Basically, are you "in" or "out"? In fact, we didn't even know we could ask that question or any questions at all.  So in an important sense we are, each one of us, a donor "who does not know who to ask." How can philanthropy help lead us beyond the hierarchy of just ourselves, however enlightened, to thinking and consideration of the wider community beyond ourselves. Please share your thoughts on the series and on the dilemma it attempts to confront. 

With greatest appreciation,


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