Who is Involved in Your Giving? Tips for Sharing Authority With Family Members and Close Associates

Uncategorized Apr 13, 2022

Decision making friction is one of the biggest drags on donors looking to gear up their giving. 

That's why the 9th design principle for donors is all about figuring WHO is involved in your giving. 

All things being equal, the more people you share authority with the more energy it takes to make decisions.  But going it alone has major drawbacks too.  First, you may not have time to make all the decisions needed to keep things running smoothly.  Second, you may not have the passion, proximity or expertise to make the best possible decisions on any number of issues.  This is why it’s so important to carefully consider who else should be involved and what role others will play in the decision-making process. 

In this post we'll start by looking at sharing authority over your giving with family members, business partners and other close associates.   In an upcoming post we'll look at the questions around bringing on advisors and other paid staff to help you with your giving. 


Sharing Authority with Family Members and Close Associates 

  Consider a simple example when there’s just one other person with whom you make decisions about your giving.  This other person might be a spouse, but could also be a sibling, a son or daughter or a business partner or anyone else with whom you share philanthropic resources and accountability. 

Three scenarios to consider   

If you already share authority over your giving with a family member or business partner, which of these scenarios comes closest to your reality? 

How comfortable does your current arrangement feel?  Does it work equally well for each of you? 

Would some other arrangement bring more joy and/or more impact to your giving?  


Fully Shared Decision Making Authority is Often the Hardest Path

In our advising practice at Building Impact we have found that the scenario of fully shared decision making authority between spouses or other close relations is the most difficult to pull off.  It’s rare for two people’s philanthropic interests to coincide completely so there’s often an appeal in having at least some separation between spheres of authority: you do your thing and I’ll do mine.  In addition, making all decisions jointly can take a lot of time and energy--doing it well requires a willingness to explain your thoughts and feelings to someone else.  There’s both an upside and a downside here.  Sharing decision making authority has the potential to improve the quality of your giving.  For example, by making you less likely to be selfish in your giving because you’d be embarrassed to have self-serving motives subject to scrutiny by someone who knows you well.  But to the extent that having to explain yourself causes you to hang back from making decisions, it also elevates the risk for senseless giving, where you and your partner end up giving with less joy and less impact together than you would if you divided your resources and made decisions on your own.  


The takeaway is simply this: the greater the divergence between you and your partner’s philanthropic focus and your why (psychological motivation), the more work it will take to make decisions jointly. 

Determine how committed you are to communicating with each other across differences and proceed accordingly.  There’s no right or wrong answer here--if you want or need to share decision making authority over your giving with a spouse, sibling, parent or business partner the most important thing is that the two of you have both clarity and commitment to operate in a way what works for each of you and for everyone else out there counting on you to make the most of your giving. 


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