It’s important to realize that every philanthropic journey is different. You may be an experienced donor in one area, while still exploring your interests in another. So it may be helpful to think of three broad stages for your philanthropy, with each stage containing a unique set of activities that will help you get the best results.

Stage 1 - Exploring

In the early stages of your philanthropy, you likely have a wide variety of causes that you care about. That’s OK – many donors start by writing checks to different types of organizations. However, some philanthropists decide they want to get even greater results by "being strategic" in their giving. So your first task must be drawing some rough boundaries. Which causes will you especially target?

Stage 2 - Experimenting

Some individuals spend most of their philanthropic life exploring. Others, however, want to deepen their commitment to a few key areas. With some grantmaking experience under your belt, you may have found an area that you want to delve into further. Or, you may have added to your “let’s not do that again” list. Either way, you will have gained information that will sharpen your priorities. You may also have started to identify the results you seek, and what role you can best play in getting there. At this stage, you may start asking yourself: Given what I’ve learned from my prior grantmaking experiences, what is in and what is out going forward? What results could I imagine holding myself accountable for? What resources (money, time, influence) am I personally willing to invest? What interventions are likely to yield better results, given my resources?

Stage 3 - Swinging for the Fences

Some philanthropists stay in the experimenting phase with the bulk of their resources. Others become frustrated with the results they’re seeing, or get excited by the small-scale results they have facilitated, and decide to pursue change on a larger scale. Such a move requires a well-informed strategy (deeply informed by grantees and others in the field), a clear sense of what works and what is being tested, the right set of aligned partners, and realistic assessments of your progress against the results you want to see achieved. The more you listen and use what you’ve learned to adjust your course, the more likely you are to achieve the change you hope to see in the world.

At this stage, you may start asking yourself: What have I learned about what works, and where I can best invest my resources? What do my grantees and their beneficiaries really think about my approach? How can I improve as a funder?

Read the full article about starting your philanthropic journey at The Bridgespan Group.