How Philanthropists Can Play Politics

By Eric Kessler, Founder, Principal and Managing Director,
Arabella Advisors

In an earlier post, I urged the philanthropic community to put aside its misgivings and get involved in political giving. On September 12th, Jim Joseph, Partner at Arnold & Porter, LLP, and I hosted a webinar to discuss the topic in more detail. What we learned was that many of you (and 80 percent of the participants) have made—or plan to make—political contributions this election cycle but were looking for guidance. Our conversation covered the options you have, the strategies you can employ to make the most of your gifts and the ways you can navigate a system that is in need of reform to ensure that you do not miss an opportunity to advance your philanthropic mission. Some highlights:

Establish your own goals and work backward from there. As a philanthropist, you already know what issues drive your work, but you’ll have to ask yourself what change you want to see through your support. Is your issue local or regional? If so, consider supporting avenues focused on state or community elections. You will also need to determine the breadth of your goals. Giving opportunities range from the narrow—such as a single-issue organization that is focused on land conservation—to the broad—like a full platform of social and economic positions, one of which is advancing land conservation policies. Finally, when giving politically, determine your own limitations and how visible you want to be in this world.

Target the recipient. Remember, your giving portfolio can extend beyond the individual candidate who calls to your home asking for your support. Who will best make use of your support? An organization or a candidate? For example, a candidate who sits on a committee that is responsible for advancing the issues you care about may be best able to help you advance your goals. When supporting an individual, be aware of your intentions. Giving can educate policymakers or directly incentivize their decisions. You can also support those organizations that are already knowledgeable about your issue and working to support policymakers with aligned views.

Educate yourself on current events. What aspect of your issue may be considered by policymakers in the next two to four years? Likewise, what situations may put your issue on the backburner? Keep the political climate in mind when plotting your political giving.

For more insights, I invite you to listen to the webinar and email us with questions or comments. Thanks to Jim for sharing his expert guidance and to all those who joined us.

Jessica Seitz-Fanning contributed to this post, which originally appeared on Greater Good, the Arabella Advisors blog, on September 14, 2012 and is reprinted with permission.

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