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Ask the tough questions.

When choosing a philanthropic organization, review its tax returns on GuideStar and check its ratings on Charity Navigator. Then ask about the problems it faces and what assumptions it relies on for its system to work. If the org can’t tell you what could go wrong, it isn’t ready to be helped.

Spell out your expectations.

Give the grantee concrete goals that are easy to assess (for example, producing a set number of public art events in the next year) and request regular progress reports.

Maintain a close relationship.

Establishing a strong presence in an organization you are funding not only ensures your money is allocated as intended but also allows you to be part of steering its mission. “You can bring your grantee in to make a presentation, go on site visits, or join its board,” suggests Maggi Alexander, a partner at the Philanthropic Initiative.

Take risks.

“We always hear stories about how one person’s initial capital gave the boost an organization needed to get off the ground,” Alexander says. So consider saving a portion of your grant-making funds for start-ups or experimental pilot programs.

Incorporate your social values into your entire portfolio.

Hold your for-profit investments to the same standard as your charitable ones. Ask your wealth manager what components make up your equity fund so you can research each one’s ethical values. Global Impact Investing Network offers a searchable database of funds that invest in areas like fair trade and human rights.

Don’t give and forget.

Crisis-hit areas need support even after they have faded from the headlines, so look for ways to make a long-term impact. Much of today’s thinking about international relief has been shaped by the response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when aid groups largely ignored Haitian organizations. “The few foundations that stuck with Haiti are now organizing local groups so that when funding dries out, the work continues,” Alexander says.


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