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Philanthropy is a highly respected pursuit that can attract the most compassionate and caring people in the world. These people often have achieved great success on the back of their work in other fields, and thus aren’t always the most suited to philanthropy in particular. This doesn’t mean that we should be more careful or choosy about philanthropic pursuits, but awareness of the common philanthropic pitfalls should be raised and spread. There are many such pitfalls in modern philanthropy, and most often people fall to them with good intentions. However well-intentioned your work, keep in mind that mistakes are usually avoidable if you know what to watch for.


Not Focusing on Performance or Accountability

It’s easy to invest or fund and leave it at that. We want to believe that our investments will have large returns, particularly when the organizations and individuals we invest in are also filled with passion and focus. But neglecting to have accountability can lead to less return on investment – make sure your expectations and investments have solid proof of impact.

Making Short-Term Investments

Hit-and-run philanthropy is attractive in theory, but typically ineffective in practice. Charities are perfectly suited to short-term investments and ‘patch-job’ donations, but philanthropy needs to have a longer-term goal in mind. Philanthropy needs to be long-term, and focus on particular goals that will result in lowering the need for short-term investing and charity.

Not Funding Collaborative Efforts

There is a tendency in philanthropy to focus on very specific topics or niches. This is understandable, as philanthropy’s goals are often to support specific populations. But it also is a failure, as collaboration is an opportunity to learn from those we don’t often interact with. Additionally, this often leads to multiple organizations that are working on the same problem, but separately. Emphasizing collaborative efforts builds networks, reinvigorates practices, and inspires donors.


This is not a complete list of the pitfalls that should be avoided, but these are emblematic of the major mistakes in thinking. These three examples have underlying errors that should be addressed by committing to these three strategies:

  • Community-wide and collaborative efforts.
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Building accountability and firm metrics

These are the hallmarks of a successful philanthropic venture for obvious reasons. Community and collaboration build networks, question and advance processes, and generate long-term impact. Challenging the status quo of philanthropic efforts drives innovation and revolutionizes the industry. And thinking through the effectiveness of your work will build stronger, longer-lasting organizations that will enact the basic changes that communities need to thrive.