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Aligning Philanthropy to Purpose to Achieve Maximum Success

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Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By David Fuller

Sometimes even the most successful organizations can be challenged in order to attain new heights. Such was the case when I was provided the opportunity to head the SunTrust Foundation after spending 32 years working in our traditional banking business.

As a banker, I worked with companies of all sizes to implement various strategies to spur growth and enhance profitability. In many cases, I’ve seen how helping companies clearly identify their focus and develop a well-defined purpose can energize every aspect of a business. When I became head of the SunTrust Foundation, I was fully aware of the many accomplishments of the organization, but also recognized that with a few changes we could help increase the organization’s reach and effectiveness. Our team recognized that we could better align our philanthropy to our purpose in order to achieve maximum success. So as a result, we spent time reinventing ourselves and fine-tuning our Foundation’s giving priorities.

As we approach the second half of the year, you many have a chance for your organization to do the same. Below are a few tips and strategies to strengthen and enhance your organization’s ability to give.

  • Listen and observe. Whether you are starting a new role or have been there for years, sometimes it’s important to take a step back and reevaluate the organization. Start by listening and observing what people say, feel, and think about the organization. Ask your peers, colleagues, community and board members to discuss the legacy and history so that you truly understand the perception of work and get real world information. Before making any immediate changes, remember it’s important to always respect the past and the great work that has taken place historically, even if you are doing a course correction.
  • Determine what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next. Once you learn all the background, determine what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next. Some important questions to ask your board members or internal constituents are “Why do we have this Foundation?” and “What are its benefits?” This allows you to have an open dialogue with board members or internal constituents to really understand what needs to be changed and what current initiatives can stay in place.
  • Create a vision. To clearly define your purpose and the reason your organization exists, you must first review your current philanthropic initiatives and determine the overall goal. Is the goal to impact a specific number of individuals? Is it to donate or allocate a certain amount of dollars per community? Once you determine your goals and ensure everyone is aligned, develop your vision and be as descriptive as possible. Make sure your vision includes the organization’s goals and how they will be measured.
  • Ensure giving strategies align with your vision/purpose. This is imperative to an organizations success. If your vision/purpose is to improve financial well-being among Americans, direct your efforts toward that. You can do so by empowering and providing grants  to local nonprofits that share this common goal. By directing resources toward groups that share the same purpose, you can make a greater impact.
  • Measure effectiveness. Instead of simply making charitable contributions or grants, have a team in place to measure and assess the effectiveness of the dollars provided. For example, if you give money to a nonprofit to host a financial well-being summit, track how many people attended the event and were impacted by the resources provided. Also, be sure to assess your areas of expertise. If more people benefited from a certain part of the summit, consider expanding upon it for the next time. This measurement will only help you improve in the future.

As a Foundation, our communities rely on us to succeed. For those involved with an organization that has an opportunity to impact the lives of those who are struggling, it’s imperative for efforts to be continually evaluated to ensure funds are being allocated to affect the greatest change. It’s never the wrong time to assess your organization’s giving strategy in order to impact the most lives possible.


David Fuller is president of the SunTrust Foundation, a private foundation focused on advancing the corporate purpose of Lighting the Way to Financial Well-Being. The Foundation gives grants to not-for-profits who focus on financial education and financial well-being across the SunTrust footprint in the Southeastern United States. Prior to assuming his current responsibilities with the SunTrust Foundation, Fuller was the division president for SunTrust in Central Florida where he directed the bank’s efforts across twelve counties in Central Florida.

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