Gearing Up Your Giving: Building the Field by Building Up Others

Uncategorized Apr 04, 2022

One of the greatest points of leverage you can have in your giving is to positively influence the people around you.

What might happen if you used your giving to encourage and support others who are engaged in the field, whether they are fellow funders, social entrepreneurs, leaders, and community members?

Getting behind others’ proximity and passion for the issues that matter most is one of the most meaningful things you can do with your money.  This post explores  four ways to make the most of this opportunity. 

4 Transformative Ways to Build the Field by Building Up Others


1. Engage your fellow philanthropists as a generous presence and a trusted advisor

This is all about showing up for others to help them have more impact and experience greater personal fulfillment. You can help them get more out of their giving journey by asking two questions. First, what would make for extraordinary impact and fulfillment in your giving? And second, what is the single, biggest challenge standing in your way? After they respond, simply look around your world for ways you can help. 

Very often, our first instinct as enthusiastic donors is to enlist others in our own ideas for giving. But some of the most effective and influential philanthropists take a stance of radical hospitality with their peers, creating welcoming spaces for learning and development across a broad range of philanthropic aims. Take, for example, Laura Arrillaga Andreesen, the founding donor of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Founded in 2006, the Center brings together students, researchers, and practitioners to pursue three goals. Their website lists them as follows: 

  1.  Expand the body and reach of quality research on philanthropy, civil society, and social innovation.
  2. Increase the pipeline of scholars, practitioners, and leaders in philanthropy and civil society.
  3. Improve the practice and effectiveness of philanthropy and social innovation.


Stanford PACS has gone on to publish the Stanford Social Innovation Review. This journal is a leader in its field and shares a wide range of best practice ideas in the arena of social change and philanthropy. The Center also offers a variety of sought after training programs and materials aimed specifically at philanthropists and their staff. As Stanford PACS has grown and evolved, it has attracted many other funders to serve on its advisory board. 


2. Invest in the full humanity of social entrepreneurs

One of the most leveraged ways to feel outsize impact is to get behind early and mid-stage social entrepreneurs. Support their impact and their personal growth and joy. Think of this as “guardian angel” investing. Social entrepreneurs feel their calling so strongly that they are often leading from a personally sacrificial place. Those patterns of leadership often lead to burnout and blunt their long-term impact. So, make a rule that when you get behind a social entrepreneur’s venture, you also get behind their personal wellness and flourishing. You won’t find many other donors focusing so directly on the personal and professional growth of these leaders and their teams. Your involvement here means you will know that your giving is playing a unique role in this venture’s continued success and social impact. 

This is also a rare instance when I’m urging you not to provide general operating support. You will likely need to specifically earmark some resources to support wellness and personal growth. Otherwise, many social entrepreneurs are going to tell you that they want every single dollar to go to their organization. This doesn’t mean you should force them to enroll in a specific program or self-care regimen. What it does mean is that you should tell them you have another pot of money they can draw down when they come back to you with a specific idea for their personal growth. Another barrier these passionate leaders are likely to have is a desire to take care of their teams before themselves. That’s a fine impulse on their part, so consider making a similar offer to support their team’s growth and development on the condition that they have first presented a plan for drawing down the funding to invest in themselves. This is exactly what the Margulf Foundation has done with their program of “Health, Wellness and Sustainability” grants. They offer these to every single organization in their portfolio. This program represents a rare instance in which they restrict the money given to grantees: these funds can only be spent on wellness and self-care. What’s more, the organizational leadership has to spend at least some of it on themselves before they can spend it on their teams.


If you want to take this strategy to the next level, get behind programs that are delivering support to whole cohorts of social entrepreneurs. For example, the Pahara Institute was one of the early leaders in this arena among education-focused social entrepreneurs. There are also a group of outstanding cohort-based programs supporting leaders of color, such as the Surge Institute and Camelback Ventures. The Joyful Impact Accelerator we run at Building Impact is yet another example of cohort-based support for social entrepreneurs. It is fully sponsored by supportive funders. 

3. Democratize high impact social change: Billions by Millions

Inspiring others to give and helping fund the infrastructure that enables them to do so can be a deeply satisfying and impactful way to gear up your own giving. This is about supporting the agency of people closest to the challenges so they can generate and resource their own solutions. This includes everything from supporting community organizing initiatives to participatory grant-making. It also includes supporting the infrastructure for community-based giving initiatives. A great example of the latter is 4.0 School’s Angel Syndicate. This initiative brings Black community leaders together to activate themselves as philanthropic change agents. 

4. Full scale wealth transfer to visionary social entrepreneurs: Billions to Brilliance 

What if one or more signatories to the Giving Pledge created ten $1B LLCs and handed control of these vehicles to ten MacArthur-style geniuses with proximity and dedication to addressing the needs of their communities? This goes beyond grant support. This is about literally transferring wealth to visionary social entrepreneurs on a truly significant scale.

The simplest way to do this would be to pay the taxes on the amount transferred. Those selected would end up with something like 60-80% of the original capital. The rest would go to the public sector in the form of taxes. Recipients would then be entirely free to deploy these resources as they saw fit. It would truly be their money. Does this sound crazy? What’s far crazier is that the vast majority of signatories to the Giving Pledge have seen their wealth continue to accumulate despite their avowed intentions to give at least half of it away in their own lifetimes.  

Even if you don’t have billions to give away, consider what your version of this strategy might look like. What’s your vision of the MacArthur prize on steroids? Which incredibly gifted change agents with proximity, passion, proof, and promise can you get behind in a radically big way? How much joy and impact could you set free in the world by taking this leap and putting your money behind the transformative genius of others? 


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These are the same materials we use with the social entrepreneurs in our accelerator program and the funders we coach one on one.  The world has never been more in need of a new, greatest generation of change agents and that's why we're opening up free access to these materials to anyone who's ready to make use of them!