1. You don’t need to be rich to be a philanthropist. According to Independent Sector, an umbrella association for nonprofits, 82 percent of the money donated by individuals in this country comes from people with incomes under $60,000.
2. Spread love. People can give away millions, but if they mistreat others in their personal or work lives, then this hypocrisy is going to catch up with them and undermine their cause. It makes more sense to help people who spread love wherever they go build a viable organization than it does to support an established organization that still needs to learn about spreading love. Support really good people who have a total commitment to doing good in the world and who are willing to put their asses on the line to do it.
3. Seek out originality and imagination. If an idea makes you laugh out loud or say “Wow!” then support it.
4. Support unpopular truths. Look for people who speak from the truth of their experience, no matter how unpopular it is.
5. Fund players with a long view. Seek out people who are strategic and thoughtful about how their work fits within the context of what’s gone on before and what’s coming next.
6. Look out of the loop and under the radar. Support people no one else is supporting—people who are less likely to have connections or be endorsed by others who give away money.
7. Be effective and cost-effective. Support people who will stretch your dollars as wisely as—or more wisely than—you would stretch them yourself.
8. Fund passion. Support people whose work is their passion in life, not a day job.
9. Invest in self-help. Support organizations that empower disadvantaged people rather than those that merely service their needs. This usually translates to organizations led by people who come from the class of people they are helping. If a charity focuses on “at-risk youth,” I want to know that its leadership is composed mainly of people who either are or used to be at-risk youth.
10. Attack root causes. Self-help isn’t enough. The solution to many social problems demands changing the rules of the system as a whole. Yet the organizations that have the hardest time getting money are the ones fighting to change the system. These groups are where your money will go the furthest.
11. Fund doers, not grant writers. I am drawn to people who are more interested in doing their work than in raising money. These people are usually not good fund raisers. So I give them a copy of Kim Klein’s incredible fund-raising video series along with my money. Let the savvy and sophisticated fund raisers get their money from someone else.
12. Foster combinationism. Support people who combine fields—they aren’t just into art, they aren’t just into politics, they aren’t just into science, but instead they blend the strengths and insights of many fields.
13. Go for net gains. Funding an ex-con to become a community organizer is a bigger net gain for society than funding someone with a college degree. The college student can get another good job. The ex-con probably can’t.
14. Pay general operating expenses. If you really believe in an organization, help it buy a building so it can become sustainable and quit paying rent to a landlord. Don’t dictate how it should spend the money.
15. Trust what inspires you.
William Upski Wimsatt is the author of Bomb the Suburbs (Soft Skull, 1994) and No More Prisons (Soft Skull, 1999). He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Excerpted with permission from No More Prisons.