There are as many ways to help another human being as there are people in need of help. For some, the urgent need is as basic as food and water. For others, it is an opportunity to develop a talent, realize an idea, and reach one’s full potential. Helping people get what they need most in life is at the heart of successful philanthropy.
However, you can’t simply give money away without thinking deeply about how and where the money will go and why you’re doing the giving. You need to approach philanthropy in a strategic and systematic way—just as an entrepreneur approaches a new venture. That’s the only way to make a self-sustaining difference in the world. That being said, here are five key ways to achieve sustainable success with your philanthropic efforts.
1. Open a Door
Helping people boost themselves out of poverty is the best way to make a lasting positive difference in a person’s life. A new skill, an introduction, an education—these gifts open doors that would otherwise remain closed. A promising beneficiary will walk through that door and create opportunities for others.
2. Define Your Passion
To have enduring impact, your philanthropic efforts should reflect the causes you are most passionate about. For me, one of those things is education: A good education is the most valuable thing you can give another person. My own philanthropic efforts have always included an educational element, whether it’s expanding opportunities to educate a promising mind or extending the brain’s ability to learn. If you follow your own passions, you’ll increase exponentially your chances of sustainable success.
3. Seek Out Inspiration
To truly change the world, you need to inspire—and be inspired by—others. I’ve found many people who share my interest in neuroscience—brilliant people like V.S. Ramachandran, and David Eagleman. They inspire me to learn more, do more, and raise my standards higher. That, in turn, inspires those I work with to raise their game. Having someone you can talk to and work with makes the job of changing the world less daunting, builds deep trust, and sparks vital creativity.
4. Measure Your Impact
You’re more likely to achieve success if you can define ahead of time what form that success will take and track progress toward your goal. Set milestones along the way so you can adjust your approach and add more resources, if necessary. Simple metrics can be a powerful tool to engage people’s competitive spirit and harness it for a good cause.
This approach is what the X Prize Foundation has done in the nonprofit science field, from genomics to space exploration—it defines the goal, sets the parameters, and measures the results. And at the end there is a payoff: a cash prize for the innovators and a new body of human knowledge for the rest of us who are the true winners.
5. Think Like an Entrepreneur
None of the previous points will create a sustainable philanthropic effort unless you are constantly looking for newer and better ways to make a meaningful difference. That means looking at the world and living life as a philanthropic entrepreneur.
For example, Kairos Society, (disclosure: my son, Ankur Jain, founded the organization and I’m a supporter), is based on the belief that the key to improving our world lies in giving the next generation of leaders different opportunities to develop globally impactful innovations. Kairos brings promising young people together with successful business and political leaders from around the world to create sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
Continuing to pass down enthusiasm for philanthropy provides chances and opportunities to the people who need it most. Growing up in India, I knew all I needed to change the world was one good opportunity, and I prepared myself for it. When that opportunity came—in the form of the chance to earn an engineering degree—I was ready. With sustainable philanthropy, we can make sure that these chances for success can be grasped by the next generation. This is philanthropy that is truly sustainable.
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