CFSA News Now: Values-Based Philanthropy

By Jennifer Jones, Director, Donor Engagement, Philanthropic Services at CFSA

I met with a couple who recently established a donor-advised fund with CFSA and was reminded just how much giving is tied to one’s values. I was impressed with their innate ability to connect their values with their giving. I find that many donors focus more on how to give. Alternatively, it’s more valuable to start with why. Values-based philanthropy is a term used to describe the process of identifying why we give.

Remember the “Connect the Dots” children’s activity that reveals an image of a cat, frog or some other figure that becomes clearer as the dots connect? Understanding why we give is a similar activity. You can start by naming one thing you value – let’s say courage – and ask yourself the simple question, Why? Why do I value courage, in myself or others? What meaning does it have in my life, past or present? Is there a way I can express this value in my giving? The answer is a resounding YES. When it comes to giving, people who value courage in others will say things like, “I want to help people who want to help themselves, or, what became the mantra of a donor family I worked with, “We want to help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Courage, for example, connects well with valuing independence, self-reliance, and determination. It’s the interconnection between multiple values that leads us to the “Why” of giving. Our values define who we are and how we live. Shouldn’t they also define why we give?

Being clear about why we give is not just helpful to us. It’s useful to those who seek our support. When there is a shared understanding of why we give, how we give is often illuminated. Let me go back to the family who wanted to help people, “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Again, this family valued individual determinism, courage, independence, and self-reliance. Through this lens, they determined that awarding scholarships to hard-working students with financial need would directly connect with what they valued as a family because the patriarch, who grew up impoverished, was given a small scholarship loan for college, and had a successful career in engineering. The family referred to this as a “handup,” not a “hand-out.” Rooted in this deeper understanding, they were able to use the why to determine how, enabling them to stay focused and stalwart when faced with an ongoing deluge of requests for funding. This brings me to one final point about values-based philanthropy. It not only helps us define why we give to the causes we care about, but helps us define why we don’t give in other areas, a challenge I hear from donors often.

So, what do you value? Are you ready to connect the dots?

Take a values assessment. Contact Jennifer Jones at or by calling 520-770-0800, ext. 7110 to learn more.