Five top tips for loving…your giving

1. It’s about the heart. You didn’t plan it, it just sort of… happened. Falling in love with a for-purpose cause or partner (or a human one, for that matter) can often defy the rules. There’s no use fighting it. If preserving 4th-century Grecian sculptures is your thing – or supporting First Nations-led models of sustainable land management, or food waste reduction, or gene therapy research for rare diseases, or understanding childhood dementia, or supporting LGBTIQ+ voices in rural communities, or micro-funding cooperative farming in Bolivia – just go with it.

When you follow your heart in selecting the causes and organisations you support – rather than giving out of a sense of obligation or tradition, or because 30 June is just around the corner – your giving becomes so much more satisfying and meaningful and, in all likelihood, more effective because you’re simply more engaged. The world is big enough for every kind of philanthropic (or romantic) partnership, so abandon any self-judgement (‘I should really care more about the Art Gallery’) or judgement of others, for that matter (‘Why do they care so much about the Eastern Rock Wallaby?’). Love is love is love.

2. Then the mind. As per romantic relationships, some donor-charity partnerships seem particularly well-matched, while others flounder or fail. If you think you’ve found a partner with philanthropic (or romantic) potential, take a good swag of time to really get to know them. Don’t rush in because the externals are glossy and appealing – do some due diligence before any commitment. In selecting a philanthropic (or life) partner, it’s useful to ask: Where have they come from and what are their values? What motivates them and where are they headed? Do we agree on the fundamentals – or can we have robust, respectful conversations, even when we disagree? Do we share the same vision of success?

Asking these questions early on in any relationship can save much unnecessary grief down the track. But it’s important to recognise that the answers are only likely to be revealed in action over time. Just as you wouldn’t marry someone after a single interview-style date, it’s important to meet with charitable organisations more than once, spend time with them in a range of settings, continue to ask nuanced questions and test what it is like to work with them – all of which will help you gauge your fundamental compatibility for a longer-haul relationship.

3. And always about the people. They have a certain je ne sais quoi. In matters of love, it’s often charm and magnetism. In the for-purpose sector, it’s often charismatic leadership. They’re different in some way, a unicorn even: an early adopter, an alternative voice, a disruptive business model. They’re probably impressive, even a little bit scary.

If a potential charitable partner is slightly quirky but interesting to you, embrace the x-factor. Don’t be threatened by it, as this is where philanthropic investment can do its best work – offering social risk capital for outliers with novel approaches to solving the world’s intractable problems. Capital applied to a novel idea is never enough, however. In philanthropy, as in every aspect of life, it’s always about the people.

4. Cultivate a partnership of equals. So you’re an attractive donor with a fascinating back-story, extraordinary life experiences and so much to offer a prospective for-purpose partner – what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, actually. You almost certainly have something every charity needs – money – and most charities will tell you what they think you want to hear, and happily accept your funding. The partnership you want isn’t defined by an exchange of currency, but by good communication. So what else can you bring to a partnership, and what can the potential partner offer you?

Historically philanthropy has been plagued by a patron-supplicant dynamic – where inequality reigns, communication is lopsided (in favour of the funder), omissions creep in and transparency is compromised. Longevity in any relationship – including the philanthropic variety – requires deep respect, active listening and the exercise of shared power. Sharing power can be deeply uncomfortable. If you demand transparency and accountability of your charitable partners, they should be able to ask the same of you. But the rewards of power-sharing are immense – your charitable (and life) partner will consistently inspire, excite, surprise and challenge you, making you want to leap out of bed in the morning and do amazing things together.

5. Distance rarely works. Let’s face it, (emotionally) long-distance relationships never work – eventually you have to commit, or break up. If your relationship with your charitable (or life) partner is characterised by distance, avoidance, inability to work through issues or a sense of just going through the motions (‘It works pretty well – we each have our roles and catch up when we can’), then you might find yourself blindsided by the unexpected one day (and chances are, your relationship won’t be secure enough to survive it). So get up close and personal with your philanthropy, where life permits.

The most effective and satisfying philanthropic (and life) partnerships occur when people take the time to articulate their expectations and to truly understand each other’s needs. Funding partnerships flourish where positive and regular communication processes are in place (and both parties check-in outside of them, just because), regular quality time is prioritised (through site visits, field trips, or direct involvement in the work being done) and a strengths-based culture of honest communication is cultivated. Where people feel safe to express their challenges, fears, imperfections or failures – in philanthropy or life – and both parties are truly committed, that’s where real growth occurs. That’s where change and impact is achieved and – dare I say it – true love is found.