The Art and Science of Philanthropy

There is an art and science to selecting what causes we want to support.
by Jennifer Zammuto, Heart of Illinois United Way
Jennifer Zammuto

When we hear the word philanthropist, our immediate association is to think of large foundations and major donors. But the true definition of a philanthropist is a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others. And by that definition, the willingness to give back is the first step toward our personal philanthropic efforts.

There is an art and science to selecting what causes we want to support with our time, talent and treasure. As we follow our heart, we have already made the most important decision—the willingness to give in order to positively impact lives and the community. While it cannot be denied that there are great needs both nationally and globally, giving locally can provide an immediate and tangible return on your philanthropic investment.

The Heart of Illinois United Way understands the science behind supporting the education, financial stability and health of people in central Illinois. Through our data-driven process, we evaluate local health and human care trends and apply this ongoing research to our grant process. This uses our community’s investment strategically and with the best philanthropic return on that investment: a measurable change in the lives of those in need in our community.

More than 100 local volunteers—with 500-plus years of combined grant review expertise—invest your charitable gifts to United Way in approximately 80 programs in central Illinois. United Way-funded programs are evaluated annually and quarterly for how well they deliver services, utilize their budgets, engage staff and impact clients’ lives. From measuring the number of low-income and at-risk clients served, to reviewing program outcomes which measure changes in knowledge and behavior, United Way provides a process to continuously improve results while making a significant and measurable change right here at home.

As a concept, philanthropy is done to better humanity rather than focusing on profit. However, if you invest in a company and don’t receive a positive return on investment, or if you purchase a product that fails, you have a tangible result that you can use to evaluate your next step. The same should hold true for charitable gifts. Through data-driven evaluation and collaboration, the Heart of Illinois United Way ensures that when you give locally to our grant process, you can be confident that your charitable investment will strengthen your community and result in money well invested. PM

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