After a career with McKinsey, I’ve spent the last 15 years working in public health. This second career in the social sector has given me two vantage points from which to look at the related issue of smart philanthropy.

This has been a personal education in effective philanthropy. I have taken a close look at philanthropic investments of several corporate entities, foundations and individuals.  The key is in asking six questions that any business, large or small, would by instinct ask of itself.

What is the purpose? 

A philanthropist told me he had visualized a technology solution to meet a basic need of the poorest rural populations. However, his statement of purpose is nothing more than a confusing statement of aspiration. A stated purpose must always go together with a statement of why and how.

Who is the consumer?

This question is more difficult to resolve in the social sector, because data required for the answer is frequently scarce. But, the closer a programme gets to the consumer, the higher is its likelihood of being effective.

What is the delivery model?

Scalable, successful models orchestrate three aspects: supply, demand and enabling environment. The extent of focus on one or the other aspect, may of course vary by situation.

How well do you measure impact?

Some of the biggest philanthropic spenders don’t budget for programme evaluation. As in business, there must be short-, medium- and long-term indicators for success with regular monitoring and measurement.

Is there a great team?

Putting such a diverse and dedicated team together can be tricky and time-consuming, but is essential.

Is it sustainable?

Many philanthropies would like to believe their programmes will sustain forever. The fallacy is in the expectation that sustainability will happen because others will take up their model and run with it.

Read the full article about strategic philanthropy by  Ashok Alexander at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.