4 Characteristics of High Impact Philanthropy | npENGAGE

4 Characteristics of High Impact Philanthropy

By on Oct 23, 2019


high impact philanthropy, grantmaking

High impact philanthropy. It sounds nice, like the right goal for every funder looking to make a serious difference. Not everyone has the same criteria for success, however. High impact may mean more reach and scale with your giving, having a more lasting and sustainable effect on your mission, preventing something from happening altogether, etc. So how do you prepare yourself and organization for high impact philanthropy? Cynthia Schaal, Chief Program Officer at Exponent Philanthropy, consults with many social good organizations on just how exactly to do this. She has found through her work that whatever your goal is, there are common characteristics that exist on the track of success.

1. Clear Outcomes Goals

The first of these characteristics is that there are clear outcome goals. If you want to know if you’ve been successful, you need to make sure that you have a goal that you can measure yourself against. It doesn’t have to be quantitative; it can be qualitative in nature. If you are funding a program or trying to achieve some systemic change, something that’s longer term, the project plan should include some short term and intermediate goals as well. The point is that there’s a destination that you’re heading towards  and the direction is clear to everyone.

2. Focus Areas

The second characteristic is that you actually have focus areas. Ensure that your giving is not spread out amongst a variety of things. Instead focus on a few or one. What areas are you trying to impact?  When you have your focus, then ensure that you actually have some depth of knowledge and facility in that space. This could be knowledge that you’ve acquired through experience, as well as pulling in knowledge from a variety of stakeholders and members in the impacted area of focus. Focusing in this way and getting that knowledge acquired is very important to revealing the most urgent needs, those opportunities and key players that you can work with in order to achieve that impact.

3. Coordinated Strategies

The third characteristic is that there are effective and coordinated strategies to giving. Those who are giving in a high impact manner match those strategies to their goals and they include not just specific approaches to grant making  practices and strategies, but also ways that they can amplify that impact. Consider how your community can help – whether it’s convening folks in that area, collaborating through funding, or other coordinated ways. The key is working together.

4. Learning

And the final characteristic is having established learning plans and practices. Make sure that you’re not only learning from your giving, but also using that learning to inform your strategies moving forward. This is a necessary component for achieving high impact, but it’s often overlooked.


Listen close to the episode of the sgENGAGE Podcast: Ramping Up for High-Impact Philanthropy to hear how these characteristics can be used to plan your strategy as Cynthia takes you on a step by step journey from preparation to outcomes.


Joe has been with Blackbaud for over three years and supports the brand team as an Associate Marketing Communication Specialist. He is involved with managing content for the npENGAGE website and the sgENGAGE podcast and is thrilled to be in a position to share leading industry trends and ideas within the philanthropic sector. With a passion for animal welfare and the arts, he is a self-proclaimed patron of live music based in New York City who prior to Blackbaud spent more time working with dogs than humans.

Comments (6)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *