Three Ways to Ask Questions and Make Your Giving Powerful

by | Aug 31, 2023

The school zones are back, so slowing down should be top of my mind as I head for work every morning. After less than a week of blinking lights, something finally clicked, and I realized as I got to the end of the zone I should have slowed way down. You know the feeling; at that moment, you’re looking around, wondering if you’re caught or slid by one more time.

Did you know philanthropy also has zones and are easy to miss? They lack clearly marked signs. Sometimes philanthropy zones have signs, but they are confusing. It’s like the school zone I drove through. It’s really two overlapping zones – one a public middle school, the other a charter school.

The zones confuse me. The signs don’t help. Is it slow down, speed up for a few feet, and then slow down again, or drive slowly the entire time? I’m sure I’m missing something.

To assist me and other confused, hurry up and get there on-time drivers, the public school put up a large sign stretching across two lanes each way to get my attention. Bright lights blink to help me know exactly when to slow down. That’s helpful, but not the problem. Where does each zone start and end? That’s really my problem.

It’s a similar dilemma when it comes to philanthropy. We find ourselves trying to make giving decisions while in a philanthropy zone, and we don’t even know we’re in one. Blinking lights and poor signage are everywhere, but we miss them.

Three Philanthropy Zones You Might Miss

Love What They Do Zone (LWTDZ): This one should be marked miles before you arrive in their territory, which translates to attending a special event or grabbing the checkbook after reading a poignant story in their ask letter. It’s easy to love from afar and hard to make objective giving decisions without detailed information.

Solution: When you realize you’re approaching the LWTDZ, come up with two or three simple questions to ask about the organization and find someone with answers.

Make Life Better Zone (MLBZ): There should be a SLOW sign when thinking about what would change others’ circumstances. With some experts saying that forty percent of the world’s inhabitants live on less than $2.00 per day, giving in this zone can inevitably miss the intended target.

Solution: Understand your assumptions about helping others when you enter the MLBZ. If you want to ensure kids have shoes on their feet or supplies in their backpacks, look for organizations that do their work well. If you want to address issues of poverty and why they don’t have shoes or school supplies, you should ask more questions and give to the organization aiming to change the underlying cause.

Do It My Way Zone (DIMWZ): This one should have a STOP sign. When we contemplate large donations because we want to see change and we want our funds spent in a specific way, we should stop.

The DIMWZ is fraught with potholes that lead to disappointment. The correct way is often impossible for the donor due to mission, policies, regulations, and realities. For the organization, it results in a wrecked donor relationship due to unclear or lack of communication.

Solution: In the DIMWZ, the donor should ask many questions. The organization should listen and also ask many questions. The donor should listen and ask many more questions. And they should take turns until both are clear about the expected results and the method used to get those results. In this zone, I encourage putting expectations on paper. It doesn’t have to be a formal contract; even a non-binding memorandum of understanding can be of great value.

Give and receive travels a two-way street. There should be better signs to help us travel safely. When signs get our attention, friends and advisors can help us navigate the zone. It’s like learning to drive.

It’s best if someone is in the passenger seat to help you see the dangers ahead. Don’t drive alone if you find yourself in one of these zones. It’ll be a much safer drive; you’ll know you gave well.

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