Debra England

People often wonder how it is that after harnessing the wealth-producing power of free markets in a free society, so many self-made millionaires have left a legacy of charitable foundations apparently dedicated to undermining the very principles and institutions which made their wealth possible.

Fortunately, Americans are such a generous people that of $250 billion in annual charitable giving, 75% comes from 225 million private individuals - far outweighing the donations of foundations. By adopting a strategic, investment-minded approach to funding, everyday Americans can amplify the impact of their charitable giving while supporting the values upon which our nation was founded.

As a professional in philanthropy, I find my desk filled with daily reminders of the old proverbial wisdom: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Most non-profit organizations market their good intentions to prospective donors, but good intentions count for little. You would not retain a stockbroker who produced mediocre returns for your investment portfolio no matter how good his intentions. Similarly, only high performance results deserve your charitable dollars.

A strategic donor must be ruthlessly demanding. In the absence of competitive market forces, the average non-profit organization is significantly less effective, less efficient, less innovative and more poorly managed than the average for-profit company. But if you seek impact with your donations, you must look for investment opportunities in organizations that are performance-driven and strategically aligned with your values. Myfavorite funding strategies also promote synergies and multiplier effects in pursuit of well-defined, principled objectives.

The top ten charitable gift ideas (linked) below prove that you can be ruthlessly demanding as a strategic donor and still get the warm fuzzies when you decide to give:

1) Wounded Warriors Disabled Sports Clinics

How can any American ever repay the personal debt we owe our fellow citizen soldiers who return from war irrevocably physically altered? Sun Valley Adaptive Sports is the leading organization serving the most severely wounded Service members nationwide: 4,500 with traumatic brain injuries, amputated limbs, spinal cord injuries, severe burns, and blindness. SVAS provides year-round disabled sports training ranging from alpine skiing, sled hockey and paragliding to hand cycling, rock climbing (in wheelchairs!) and kayaking. Donations cover the entire cost. (Make sure SVAS knows your donation is restricted to their programs for injured Service members.)

Debra England

Debra England is a San Francisco based expert on philanthropy and education. She is a strong advocate of school choice.

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