If one subscribes to the axiom that success is in the “eye of the beholder,” then the question becomes, “Who is the beholder?” Is it the philanthropist who gives? Is it the organization that accepts? Is it the beneficiary who receives? Who has the primary responsibility of defining success and determining the metrics with which to define what success means?

If one maintains that philanthropy is not a commodity defined by market supply and demand but rather the result of a personal journey driven by values and beliefs, then perhaps to a great extent, the responsibility of defining success falls squarely on the philanthropist who gives.

There is a significant and responsible discussion taking place in the nonprofit profession as to how to define an organization’s philanthropic impact. It is healthy and it is timely. One element to add to this discussion is the ultimate accountability of the donor who has the freedom to choose when to give, how to give, and to whom to give. Flattery may get more gifts but does it translate into impact or success in the “eye of the beholder” – in this case the philanthropist?

Authors Thomas J. Tierney and Joel L. Fleishman in their book Give Smart encourage donors to follow a process of inquiry around six questions, one being, “What am I accountable for?” And in writing about accountability and characteristics that distinguish philanthropists, they conclude, “the single most consequential may be the fact that they are essentially accountable to no one but themselves.”

Such a reality comes with great responsibility for the donor to get good advice and to set self-imposed standards of excellence to achieve as much impact as possible with the resources available. Is it not virtuous to expect the same of those who accept the donation and those who receive the services? To achieve such excellence requires communication, transparency, honesty, and trust from all participants.

Let the donor dialogue begin!

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