“The most interesting developments in philanthropy are trends in engagement.” - Patty Stonesifer, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For many donors, writing a check directly to a nonprofit or stuffing envelopes isn’t enough. There is an interest in being more involved, either by being part of a grant process to determine where and how much money is given to certain nonprofits in a specific focus area or actually being involved in the day-to-day operation of a nonprofit and assisting in capacity building. Over the past seven years, I have taken an active role in engaging donors in both grantmaking and capacity building with nonprofits. Engaged philanthropy can be defined as the way in which donors serve in an active role either in grantmaking or with organizations and local leaders to meet community needs.

Whether it is serving on a grants committee at a foundation or using professional expertise to solve a problem within a nonprofit, many donors appreciate the active versus passive philanthropic role. At Dallas Social Venture Partners, where I served as the director of partner engagement for four and a half years, I connected successful entrepreneurs with nonprofits. Financial audits, business and marketing plans, and HR manuals were developed and staffed by engaged donors. There was mutual appreciation and respect by both the executive directors of the nonprofits that were impacted and the donors that were building capacity. Many donors often commented that they did not realize the impact that they could make in a nonprofit using the skills that they acquired in the business sector. The organizations that benefited the most were the ones that were opportunistic and took full advantage of the expertise provided to them by the donors.

At the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, engaged philanthropy takes place in our grantmaking where we bring together issue area experts, nonprofit executive directors, donors and entrepreneurs. Whether it is through our Future Fund where young professionals learn about an issue area and then review proposals and make grant decisions or through our Community Investment Fund grant cycle where representatives from nonprofits and businesses take part in a meaningful process where many voices are heard, donors are engaged in philanthropic decision making.

I am often amazed and inspired by the donor who realizes the impact there are having through their engagement. In Do More Than Give, authors Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer reflect that, “Today’s philanthropists have an opportunity to engage in more proactive, high leveraged forms of philanthropy than at any other time in history – at a time when adaptive, systemic solutions are needed more than ever before. Business as usual is no longer acceptable.” Engaged philanthropy IS one of the solutions and an opportunity to do business differently in the world of philanthropy.