Impact Investing

When you donate to a cause you care deeply about, you want to be sure your money is being spent wisely and achieving the desired results. But determining your gift’s impact isn’t easy—it requires measuring the benefit your contribution delivers against the amount spent.

Of course, some results are easier to measure than others. For example, certain gifts may feed 100 hungry people or provide shelter for 30 homeless families, which is easily quantifiable. On the other hand, donations to fund art, music, or medical research may not yield an immediate tangible result.


Focus your efforts.

To help ensure your donations have a significant impact, focus your efforts. Choose one or two areas that interest you and do research to see where money can be best spent and which charities have the most efficient operations. After all, when you purchase a ticket for a trip, you know your destination and have an itinerary. Why not approach your giving the same way?

As legendary basketball coach John Wooden remarked, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Early in my philanthropic career, I made the mistake of assuming I knew more than those working every single day in nonprofits. I once refused to fund a reading program because of the books they chose, yet I am not a reading specialist or an expert in what attracts middle schoolers. Only when I recognized and accepted that I could learn from them—while also sharing my knowledge and experiences—did my giving move to a higher level and the impact increase.


Stay Passionate.  Stay Committed.

Impact also thrives on your passion. There will be times when the road is difficult. Staying the course will require focus, your willingness to learn as you go, and determination. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but giving away money is hard. At times you’ll need your passion to fuel your perseverance.

The satisfaction that comes with bringing about positive change is at the heart of philanthropy. Impact transcends fields of interest and amount of dollars. I think about it when using my donor-advised fund, when I write a personal check at the kitchen table, or when acting as the trustee of a foundation or charitable trust.

To help you achieve greater charitable impact, we at Exponent Philanthropy have created a free, downloadable 10-Minute Impact Assessment tool. To access it, visit exponentphilanthropy.org, and click on “10-Minute Impact Assessment” under the “Top Resources” heading. It is simple and easy to use and will give you a framework for discussing impact, help you identify areas of strength and opportunities for increasing your impact, as well as give you tips and resources to strengthen specific areas in your journey toward greater impact.


Henry L. Berman is a donor-advised fund holder; private foundation trustee; and CEO of Exponent Philanthropy, the country’s largest and most vibrant association of donors—nearly 2,200 members strong. This powerful network of individuals, families, and foundations shares challenges and priorities, including lean operations and a style of philanthropy motivated by personal passion, community needs, and the strong desire for better outcomes. Exponent Philanthropy provides high-quality and cost-effective programs, resources, and connections that maximize members’ dollars and time for the benefit of a diverse set of communities and causes. Mr. Berman can be reached at henry@exponentphilanthropy.org.