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Recipe for Good: Your guide to giving with intention


Recipe for Good: Your guide to giving with intention


Tapping Into the Emotion of Giving

A Few Notes on The Giving Table and Recipe for Good

Why You Need a Personal Philanthropy Strategy

The Recipe

Step 1 – Write Your Giving Story

Step 2 – Find Your Giving Style

Step 3 – Develop a Personal Philanthropy Strategy

Step 4 – Tasting Menu: Action Steps

Final Thoughts

The Most Important Lesson

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Tapping Into the Emotion of Giving

Fulfilled. Motivated. Satisfied. Joyful. Excited. Proud. Inspired. Helpful. Impactful.

Is this how you feel when you give?

When done properly, giving should make you feel empowered. Instead, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the number of causes and organizations competing for your support, leaving your good intentions paralyzed. It happens to all of us and benefits no one. But there are ways to cut through the noise of nonprofit voices and focus on what matters to you.

With a strategy in place, you become focused, motivated, and prepared. When you give from a place of intention, your gifts become more meaningful to both you and the beneficiary. 

A Few Notes on The Giving Table and Recipe for Good

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My journey to creating The Giving Table began in 2009 when my husband and I watched the documentary Food, Inc. We had become increasingly interested in eating better, and the film helped articulate some of our beliefs while also revealing many of the challenges facing our food system. Since then, we’ve maintained a mostly plant-based diet that is occasionally supplemented by grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and sustainable seafood.

Modifying our eating habits was easy. What I found more challenging about my journey into the food system was how little information there was about how to be philanthropic within the sector. When I looked for resources, I couldn’t find a website that connected potential donors with food nonprofits, or that educated consumers about the food system in a way that also supported activism and involvement.

I wanted to be part of the movement beyond my own dinner table, and desired to find a community of like-minded people. So I created The Giving Table.

At its core, The Giving Table is about doing good with food, but it also approaches philanthropy broadly, aiming to demystify the sector, empower donors, and encourage you to develop a strategy that will guide your giving.

The steps included will help you cook up a custom strategy to serve you and your family both short- and long-term. Giving is not done in isolation, so my hope is that you’ll make this a group activity. Plan a philanthropy “date night” with your spouse, or instead of family game night, make it a family giving night. Discuss the questions together, listen to each other, and you’ll soon discover the core beliefs and values that stir your soul. Only then will you be prepared not only to give, but to receive the emotional and spiritual benefits of giving purposefully.

Why You Need a Personal Philanthropy Strategy

Have you ever stood in front of the pantry, waiting to be inspired? Have you opened the refrigerator, scrounging through your crisper drawers, trying to decide what to make for dinner?

Eventually, the meal will come together. You might boil water for pasta, roast some vegetables, and chop up the last of the parsley. You pull down the plates, eat, and wash the dishes, but leave the kitchen slightly unsatisfied.

What if you had cooked with intention, instead?

You might have stopped by the grocery store earlier in the day, soaked beans the night before, kneaded dough that morning to let it rest. Intention is what transforms a good meal to a great meal.

Giving without intention is like standing in front of your pantry with no idea what to make for dinner.

When it comes to philanthropy, it’s not enough to want to give. Without knowledge, plans, and goals in place, you’ll approach grantmaking with the same hesitation as opening your pantry with no recipe in mind.

Intention, like salt in a recipe, is what gives philanthropy its backbone, its meaning. 

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The Recipe - Step 1

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”   –Roy Disney


The Recipe - Step 1

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”   –Roy Disney

Step 1: Write Your Giving Story

Have you ever read an interview with a chef where he explained why he started cooking? The story of his first food memory, or working in his grandmother’s restaurant during long summers might seem like an inconsequential detail, but it’s more revealing then you might think. We no longer just know that he’s a great cook, but we know why he took the journey. We know what he values. 

You can’t give in a meaningful way without first identifying what you care about. The first step involves taking inventory of your values, goals, and concerns, and reflecting on past giving experiences. By bringing your story to the forefront, you’ll see a pattern of values that will be indispensable to you when it comes to creating a giving strategy. 

Define Your Motivation. These questions are rooted in emotion. What you’ll find moving through this process is the raw feelings you identify here will be turned into positive actions in subsequent steps. 

Discussion Questions

•    What factors motivate your giving? Religious, social, political, emotional?

•    Do you have any giving role models? 

•    What personal values do you want your giving to express?

•    What makes you the most frustrated about the world’s inequities?

•    Think ahead to your retirement party. What would you like to be remembered for?

Reflection on Past Gifts

Giving should fulfill the emotions we discussed earlier, and when donations fall short, it only deters us from future giving.  In addition to noting some of the most recent giving experiences you’ve had, equally important is your emotional response to those gifts. All emotions, positive or negative, are valid. Don’t hold back.

Some general responses to a gift might be “I never found out how the money was used” or “I enjoyed the personalized emails.” Maybe you donated to a cause on behalf of a friend who was running a marathon for charity, but never received a thank you note from her. Maybe an organization sent too many emails after your donation. Maybe you deepened your relationship with an organization and ended up attending a local benefit.

Giving Worksheet

If you’d like to create a giving worksheet for past, current, and future gifts, set up an Excel spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Date
  • Organization
  • Amount
  • Gift Type*
  • Source**
  • Emotional Response

*Gift Type Examples: General Operating Support, Benefit Tickets, Program, etc. (Consult “Types of Gifts” list in Step 2.)

**Source Examples: Referral (from a friend, colleague, church), Mailing, Email

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The Recipe - Step 2


The Recipe - Step 2

Step 2: Find Your Giving Style 

Keeping in mind the past gifts you reflected on in Step 1, ask yourself the following questions to help you determine your donor comfort zone, how you approach giving, and what you value in a donation.

Discussion Questions

Looking Back

  • Which gifts have brought you the most happiness
  • Which gifts have inspired you to continue giving to the same organization
  • Which gifts have been the most disappointing?
  • Which gifts were you most engaged in? Least engaged?
  • Have any personal circumstances inspired your giving?

Giving Patterns

  • What prompts you to give? (For example, a newsletter, request from a friend, awareness at your local church, participating in a fundraising event like a charity walk, etc.)
  • Do you earmark a percentage of your income to giving, or do you evaluate on a case-by-case basis? 
  • Do you give large sums once a year, or many small gifts throughout the year? 
  • How do you respond to annual/bi-annual requests (such as alumni appeals)?
  • Are your donations one-time gifts or recurring?
  • Do you utilize matching gifts through your employer?

Looking Ahead

  • Are there any organizations you’d like to give to that you currently are not? Have you previously made a one-time donation to an organization, but are interested in getting more involved?
  • Do you currently support any causes that you’re not passionate about?
  • Where are you financially? Are you comfortable with the amount of your giving, or would you like to reduce or increase it?
  • Are you comfortable with the giving patterns you identified in the previous section? Would you         like to modify your habits moving forward?
  • Review the “Types of Gifts” section below. Are there any gift types you have not supported in the past that you’d like to?

Types of Gifts

Before you decide which organizations to support and how much to give, it’s helpful to take inventory of the kinds of financial gifts you prefer giving. Look over this list, and consider each option in the context of past gifts. Do your gifts tend to be program-related, or are you willing to fund general operating support? Thinking ahead, are you interested in maintaining the types of gifts you’ve given previously, or would you like to expand your range? 

General Operating Support: Supports an organization’s operations as a whole covering day-to-day costs rather than a particular project.

Program Support: For specific programs or projects.

Unrestricted: Allows the organization to use funding where its most needed.

Capital: Supports the purchase of property, remodeling, equipment needs, or construction. 

Seed: For newly created programs or organizations just starting out, or to help launch a capital campaign.

Capacity Building: To assist in the development of organizational growth, skills and resource development, and program effectiveness.

Matching: Helps a nonprofit leverage additional donations during a fundraising campaign.

Challenge: Conditional based on a certain amount of additional funds being raised.

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The Recipe - Step 3


The Recipe - Step 3

Step 3: Find Your Giving Style 

The strategy you create now will support you for the next several years, but don’t feel like your first mission statement will be your last! Your ideals and interests will develop over time, and at various points in your life it will be necessary to reflect and re-imagine. For now, begin where you are. 

Mise en place

In the kitchen, Mise en place, or “putting in place” in French, means preparing ingredients, setting out bowls, and establishing order even before you begin cooking. 

For your strategy, this means beginning with the basics by outlining a mission statement and brainstorming goals before ever deciding which organizations to support. 

Successful organizations are governed by mission statements, clear goals, and defined strategies. While you and your family may not run a business or operate a foundation, it’s important to think of your giving in a professional capacity to ensure your personal goals are met and your giving is as fulfilling as possible. 

A company is less likely to succeed without a strong mission statement. By not fully understanding its motivation, actions can be taken without proper guidance. In the same way, our personal philanthropy must be guided by a driving force so that when opportunities come our way, we can easily determine if it will be a good fit or not. 

What are your values?

Now it’s time to start writing. Find a scrap of paper, open a word document on your computer screen, or even start a new note on your iPhone. You can title it “Philanthropy Notes,” if you’d like.

This will be a critical detail for your strategy, so don’t skip it. 

Now, brainstorm a few words or phrases that define your values. Some examples might be achievement, community involvement, religious beliefs, friendships, wealth, integrity, or kindness.

Values in Action

Choose 1-3 of the words you wrote down and consider what they mean in action.  Think about how you want these values to take hold in your life. 

For example, if you wrote down “community,” you might desire to volunteer your time at a local organization. 

Giving Priorities

One of the most critical steps for your philanthropy strategy will be choosing which causes to support. But even after you narrow that down (for example, food and children), it’s wise to focus even further and be as specific as possible.


If choosing specific focus areas feels constricting, think about it this way. It’s in your best interest to determine what you care about most, and you’ll find it freeing to let causes you feel mediocre about fall away when your true passions are revealed. Also remember that the decisions you make today are subject to change over the course of your lifetime, and that’s exactly how it should be!

Write down the top three sectors that are a priority for you and your family. Be as specific as possible. For example, if food is your passion, define which areas are most interesting to you, such as school lunch reform or ending childhood hunger (see the Food Philanthropy 101 appendix for more details). There may be a handful of issues you care about, and that’s ok, but it’s important to hone in on the causes you care most about. 

Once you have your priorities set, you can refer back to them whenever you’re faced with a giving opportunity. If it doesn’t immediately seem to fit within your mission statement or goals, take time to reflect. Are you open to making a donation to determine if you’d like to pursue the organization more, or would you prefer to decline because it doesn’t fit your values?

Determine Commitments

What are you willing to contribute financially? Consider amounts in terms of both monthly and yearly gifts. Would you prefer to support a small number of organizations with a recurring, monthly gift, or do you plan to do most of your giving in lump sums once or twice a year? 

Will each family member have their own budget for giving, or will you make decisions together? Also consider a set of “discretionary” grants that can fall outside of your key interest areas but where you may want to experiment (such as making a small gift to a project funded by Kickstarter).

Which types of gifts will you focus on making? (See the “Types of Gifts” section in Step 2.)

Write Your Mission Statement

Now that you’ve identified your values and the causes you care about, it’s time to draft your first mission statement. Simply fill in the underlined words with your own.


I value honesty, kindness, and community. I care deeply about improving nutrition for expectant mothers, better food access, and eradicating neglected tropical diseases. I want to make a difference by setting a good example for my children, and serving on a local nonprofit board.

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The Recipe - Step 4


The Recipe - Step 4

Step 4: Tasting Menu - Action Steps

A five-course tasting at your favorite restaurant is all about progression. You might begin with an amuse buche, something to awaken your palette. Then it’s on to starters like a fresh salad or chilled soup. You get the idea. 

Now that you’ve determined your values, written a mission statement, and developed your strategy, it’s time to take action. But don’t think you’ll be writing checks just yet. There is still work to be done before you find the right organization for your contribution. Refer to this checklist as you move through the year. (Also, you are welcome to modify the timeframes if you feel ready to move ahead.)

Begin by researching several organizations within the three priority areas that you would like to learn more about. Once you’ve identified these nonprofits, take the following action steps in order to deepen your knowledge of their work.

Starter – Within 2 Months

  • Sign up for a digital newsletter
  • Poke around the organizations’ websites to learn about their programs, history, and mission
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Become a fan on Facebook

First Course – Within 6 Months

  • Choose one of the organizations you’ve researched and make a small donation to one of its programs ($25 or less). This will allow you to see how the NGO communicates with donors once a gift has been made.
  • Revisit your strategy. Did your small donation teach you anything useful? Have you learned enough about each topic? Are you focused on the right organizations? If not, adjust accordingly
  • Engage socially with several of the organizations. Respond to a tweet, or ask a question on Facebook to see how they respond and communicate with you.

Main Course – Within 1 Year

  • Refine your choice of which organizations to deepen your relationship with 
  • Make your first major donation or commit to a monthly gift
  • Consider attending an event or benefit
  • Consider volunteering locally

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Final Thoughts

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead


Final Thoughts

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

Final Thoughts - The Most Important Lesson

If you’ve ever worked in the field, volunteered at home or abroad, or traveled on a mission trip, you know how easy it is to fall in love with the people you’re helping and the causes most dear to them. On the flight home, you scheme all the ways to continue assisting them from afar, but when your daily routines return, their plight seems farther and farther away. 

I was once given very good advice on this dilemma, and I’d like to share it with you. 

Several years ago I took a trip to Romania with my department director where we spent four days traveling through the country observing children’s institutions, foster parents, transitional homes, and meeting with government officials and social workers.

One of our first visits was to Camin Spital, the most notorious institution in Romania. Now closed, the building sits empty, covered in cobwebs and dried leaves, but it stands as a reminder of the country’s communist history. As I stood inside the iron gates that isolated the institution from the world, the cries of the children who lived and died inside its cement walls were almost audible on the breeze that brushed my face. I remained haunted for months afterwards.

The week continued in this manner, and by the time we said goodbye to our host organization, I was so emotionally depleted that I broke down in tears.  After regaining some composure, we sat talking about how to manage emotions in the face of a broken world. And that’s when she said it. 

We can’t help everyone.

We can’t contribute to every cause. 

We must accept that there are more needs in the world than we alone can meet. 

Once you embrace this truth and devote yourself to the few causes you care most passionately about, you’ll experience greater motivation and satisfaction with each gift. You’ll be the most useful when your priorities are no longer pulled in countless directions. 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

–Margaret Mead

There’s a reason this quote is widely circulated for the purposes of inspiring movements and generating change. Margaret Mead’s sentiment hits us to the core. It inspires. It makes us believe that our individuality, unique gifts, and passions, are enough, and that together we can accomplish anything. 

And the truth is, we can. We just need to know what it is we want to commit ourselves changing. 

The journey you’ve taken by reading this eBook is just the beginning, but I hope you leave this space feeling empowered and full of enthusiasm about how you can make a difference. 

Stay hungry. Eat well. Be kind. Change the world.