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What are in YOUR baskets?

“That’s my third basket,” I said to a friend, smiling, as I sat through a presentation at Seattle City Year's “Ripples of Hope” fundraiser last week. Then I raised my paddle.

So you may be wondering, as was my friend, what in the world am I talking about. What is all this about baskets?  To explain, I need to rewind....

Seven years ago, I was sitting in a hotel lobby preparing for my job interview with FSG. While going through the website, I came across a 1998 article entitled “Mixed Motives” by the organization’s co-founder, Mark Kramer. The article struck me because it clearly and effectively broke down the key motivations for why and how people give. In it, Kramer segments philanthropic motivations into 3 baskets:

  1. Obligatory giving – Supporting key institutions with whom you are affiliated (e.g., churches, temples, alma maters);
  2. Social giving – Supporting philanthropic efforts primarily due to relationships (e.g., friends/colleagues doing a 5K Fun Run for a charity) rather than passion for the cause itself; and
  3. Strategic giving – Supporting institutions not only with money, but also with time and experience, to achieve a specific change within a social issue.

As I sat there in the hotel lobby, I realized that the vast majority of my own giving fell in the first two baskets, and that I had really never sat down to think through where and how I wanted to spend the philanthropic dollars in my third, "strategic giving" basket. 

I needed to rebalance my philanthropic portfolio. And to fill that third basket, I needed to find organizations that inspired me not only to give, but also to act.

I love an inspirational story as much as I love data, but to motivate me, I need a combination of both – compelling storytelling with the facts. What’s the problem? How are you trying to address it? How do you know your approach works? What are the outcomes? How does this intervention change lives? This is not easy to do, but when done well, it can be quite powerful. 

So what’s in my third basket? City Year. You’ll know City Year from their corps of young people wearing the signature Red Jacket. These volunteers devote a year of service in local schools, where they work alongside teachers to augment their capacity and provide 1:1 help to targeted at-risk students. City Year uses the data AND the story to explain how they achieve positive outcomes and, in the process, change lives.  As a result, I not only give from my wallet, but I also give of my time by volunteering on their evaluation committee. I want to do more than financially support them - I want to help them succeed.

So as a challenge, try allocating your own giving into the three baskets. Are you happy with the resulting portfolio? If not, make a change. You don’t have to be a multi-million dollar foundation to be intentional with your giving. We can all be catalysts in creating social change – just find your third basket and do more than give.

For more information on how to be strategic in your philanthropy, check out FSG's page on Catalytic Philanthropy.

Patty Russell

Former Managing Director, FSG