Five Rules for Personal Philanthropy

At the sharp edge of smart philanthropic giving, we want our donor dollars spent wisely. But combining your compassion, your cash box and your common sense to make impactful charitable donations is not always easy.

The African continent is an example. Plagued with the residue of colonial occupation, beset with war, thirsty from droughts, burdened with weak governments and yoked with market-distorting, unfair trade tariffs imposed by the West, Africa's farm economy struggles to support its own population when it should and could be the world's breadbasket.

Among a torrent of tragedies on the African continent, none is more heartbreaking than children born with AIDs. Can you imagine a more undeserved punishment for the misdeed of being birthed in the wrong womb?

What can you do? What is worth doing? What works?

With grateful thanks to Kerry Olson, Founder/President of the Firelight Foundation (I am its treasurer), here are five giving rules worth knowing:

Rule 1 -- Wherever impoverished families fight for the future, there are local resources worth leveraging. "So many people here in the U.S. identify Africa with its struggles and not with its strengths, but we saw early on that we had an opportunity to share the amazing work that's going on at the community level in Africa."

Rule 2 -- Check your ego at passport control. "I really feel strongly that philanthropy is ultimately not about the ME. A lot of the time, we want to give to things where we can be personally connected in a direct way. But sometimes our need to be recognized or to be directly involved can get in the way of good philanthropy."

Rule 3 -- Partner with local programs and leaders. "When it comes to helping children affected by AIDS and poverty in Africa, I know that there are lots of adults in their own communities who see these children every day and who can be there for them. One of the best ways to support these kids is to support local organizations. I don't need to go there to do that."

Rule 4 -- Support long-term solutions and strategies, and that means children and youth. "From the beginning, we showed images of children that really communicated their resilience, not just a sad picture of a child-victim or a child-recipient of services. A Firelight grassroots leader said it very well: 'given half a chance, there is a hero in every child.'"

Rule 5 -- Partner with Firelight to do your philanthropy for you. Most of us can't travel to Africa to roll up our sleeves. We aren't wealthy enough to create our own foundation. We don't speak the local language. We aren't community experts. We want to do good, but we aren't good at it.

Firelight Foundation - a leading Opportunity Collaboration 2010 Delegate -- walks the talk. Operating in 10 Sub-Saharan African countries, working with 330 local grassroots organizations supported with over 1,000 small, targeted grants, Firelight is "child-centered, family-focused and community-based" philanthropy.

Firelight is the adult partner for change that every African child deserves.