The September 24, 2016 Grand Opening Ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was a who’s who of celebrities, politicians, and other community leaders. A representation of racial progress, the NMAAHC opening has inspired the impassioned voices of those who, while celebrating the lives, history, and culture of African Americans, still recognize the advances yet to be made within our society.
Among these stands billionaire philanthropist Robert Smith, who contributed $20 million to the NMAAHC, making him the museum’s second-highest private donor. Through the years, Smith’s giving has also included causes such as human rights, arts and culture, education, and the environment. The first African American to be named chairman of Carnegie Hall, Smith is no stranger to high impact, focused philanthropy. There is much we can learn from his approach to giving back.
At a time when we feel the sting of tragedies fueled by racial injustices almost daily, we need to give in ways that promote sustainable progress and, in doing so, we need to be intentional in our giving. While seeking approaches to giving that advance causes which matter to us most, there are three major steps we can take.
1. Give With Your Heart While Using Your Head
The etymology of “philanthropyâ€ derives from early Latin and Greek translations meaning “love of mankind.â€ Thus, its very foundation is rooted in compassion, generosity, and goodwill. The concept of giving is a core value within most faith practices, and often our ideals regarding social responsibility and giving play a major role in shaping our identities. As we seek to not only do good, but also to make a lasting difference, our beliefs and values serve as a compass for the philanthropic decisions we make. Information, data, and metrics provide us with valuable insight. Research helps us to better understand issues and causes. When we combine our heartfelt values with informed intention, our giving gains direction and purpose.
2. Set Clear Philanthropic Goals
In order to be effective, it is important that we set long-term and short-term goals for what we want to achieve as a result of our giving. Throughout my career, I have worked with ethnically and culturally diverse donors, who have given millions to colleges and universities that historically used racial quotas in their admissions practices. These donors cared deeply about ensuring equitable access to such institutions and directed their donations to support this goal. This principle applies not only to our nation’s colleges and universities but other institutions where change and progress is needed. Having clear vision for your philanthropic goals guides your expectations and provides a way to measure progress.
3. Know the Value of Your Resources
The combination of your identity, time, networks, and financial resources have tremendous value. Similar to personal and business finance, budgeting in this area is critical. How we allocate time spent volunteering, financial donations, and personal influence can determine the impact we make as philanthropists. Recognizing the value of our spectrum philanthropic resources allows us to budget them effectively.
While essential, these three approaches do not represent the full scope of action needed for giving with intention. However, successful change hinges on active engagement in all of these areas. Giving driven by the head and heart, clear goals, and a balanced use of our resources ultimately provides a powerful tool that can be used to foster change that is sustainable.
Contributions to the NMAAHC like Robert Smith’s and many others stand to inspire us all to strive for historic moments in other areas where we so desperately need change and progress. As we celebrate the NMAAHC and the history it honors, let us also increase our focus and resolve to give in ways that make a difference today and for generations to come.
Halima Leak Francis is a charitable giving advocate, fundraising consultant, and philanthropic advisor. Her work centers on promoting mindfulness in philanthropy and positive social change through giving and volunteerism. https://twitter.com/hleak