Driving Change

When business leadership, entrepreneurial skills and philanthropy intersect, it can accelerate progress where it’s been stalled for decades.

To effect real and significant change, it takes more than good intentions—it takes vision and talent. That’s where you come in. If you let the same qualities that made you successful in your professional life inform your philanthropy, you can accelerate progress where it’s been stalled for decades.

In the business sector, many of the most exciting and profitable enterprises come from revolution, not evolution. Philanthropy, like business, is also ripe for disruption. There’s no shortage of challenges to tackle, but conventional methods of giving—soliciting grant applications from nonprofits and awarding funding to whomever writes the best proposal—can have limitations.

Entrepreneurial philanthropy is a different approach to solving social problems that is especially effective for business leaders and change agents who want to create lasting change in the world and build a legacy for themselves, their families and their communities. 

In its simplest form, entrepreneurial philanthropy allows you to select the problem you want to focus your efforts and resources on, and then leverage all your skills to figure out the best ways to attack the problem and carry out your agenda.

If you are inspired by the idea of merging your personal values and business acumen to improve the world around you, here are six suggestions to get you started.

Conduct Your Pre-trip Inspection: What are the advantages that could make you a successful social innovator? Where are you uniquely qualified to make a difference? Many small funders with business know-how and professional connections are often able to accomplish goals that would elude the staff at multi-billion-dollar foundations.

Turn on the Ignition: What are the issues that build upon your passion and strengths? How you spend your money is ultimately more important than how much you spend. Championing an issue that emanates from your life experiences could help bring attention to “orphaned” issues that have been overlooked by other philanthropists or are too controversial for governments to tackle.

Find Your GPS Coordinates: Do research to understand the contours of your chosen issue—and solicit input from people impacted by the problem: nonprofits dedicated to a related mission, consultants and other philanthropists. Knowing who else is working on the problem, what’s already been done and what impact that work has had can help you avoid wasting money and could yield some important allies.

Check Travel Conditions: Like success in business, success in philanthropy is dependent on situational factors. To what degree is the environment receptive and ready for change? If issues are ripe for action, think about assessing social urgency, feasibility and stage to understand how much attention and support you can expect—and where more efforts might be required to increase awareness and prioritization.

Know Your Destination: Before you begin work or commit a single dollar, define your ultimate goal in detail. If you have, say, a 20-year solution horizon or longer, think of specific mileposts that will help you mark progress. This will focus attention and efforts on what can be reasonably accomplished and help keep you energized by working toward attainable near-term goals.

Use All Your Gears: Once you know what you want to do, how are you going to do it? With a private foundation, there are a wide range of tactics at your disposal that support innovation and efficacy including: advocacy, media campaigns, awards and scholarships, mission-related investments, research and polling, litigation, demonstration projects, coalition building, documentary film and direct charitable activities, among many others. Find the approaches that match your problem, its stage and the conditions on the ground. 

In sum, be the entrepreneur that you are and leverage your strengths to drive change. To learn more about entrepreneurial philanthropy or private foundations, visit foundationsource.com.