By Gerald P. McCarthy, formerly of Virginia Environmental Endowment
Gerald (Jerry) McCarthy recently retired after serving for 36 years as executive director of Virginia Environmental Endowment, a private grantmaking institution whose work focuses on environmental conservation. Jerry participated in ASF’s Impact Working Group since its creation in 2011, and we asked for his reflections on ways to give big while staying small, working with few or no staff to achieve outsized impact.
Having participated in the ASF Impact Working Group for several years, I can attest to the value of thinking about and talking about and prioritizing your philanthropic impact. Once you are clear about where and how you want to make a difference—and no, you cannot skip this step—you will be amazed at the opportunities you suddenly see right in front of you.
First, there is more than one way to achieve impact. In simplest terms, impact means making a real difference with the limited funds you have available for the causes you believe in most strongly.
One traditional way to do this, especially at the local level, is to determine which organizations are doing the most good for your community’s quality of life. Find out who they are and support them generously and often. If yours is a general purpose fund, this approach makes a lot of sense. You still have to undertake the due diligence to determine which groups are “the best” at what they do, but, once done, you can invest in them and thereby make a difference in your community.
Another way, for those who are focused on particular fields of interest, involves leveraging your grant funds and your ideas in ways that allow your limited funds to work harder and go further, multiplying the impact they can have.