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.