Coaching Model: The Focus – Execute – Assess Model For Philanthropic Impact

For Coaches

A Coaching Model Created by Michael Colson
(Executive Coach, SWITZERLAND)

This model is for a niche of clients and emerges from my twenty-year career in grantmaking philanthropy, during which time I have advised individuals, families, and foundations on strategies and techniques to maximize the impact of their philanthropic giving.

The challenge:

Every year, around the world, individuals and families donate hundreds of billions of dollars to charitable causes.  For instance, in the United States alone, in 2019 there was just under $450 billion of giving.[1]

While individuals are giving generously, many have serious doubts about the impact they are having; cannot clearly articulate their philanthropic objectives, and often feel a sense of obligation rather than joy when they give.

The opportunity:

Coaches help their clients think deeply about a challenge, enabling them to uncover their motivations and underlying beliefs, create structures that support action, and recognize and celebrate their victories.  Employing these skills, a philanthropy coach can help clients transform their giving experience, helping make their philanthropy deeply meaningful, engaging, joyful, and with maximum impact.

This model lends itself to blended coaching.

In the role of coach, one can help clients to:

  • Identify and articulate deeply held beliefs and values that can then be reflected in philanthropy.
  • Identify competing interests (e.g. what areas to support, what resources to allocate) and make principled decisions among them.
  • Navigate potential areas of conflict, such as between different generations of family members.

In the role of consultant, one can:

  • Conduct research into different areas of philanthropic need.
  • Perform due diligence on potential grantees.
  • Monitor and evaluate the impact of donations.
  • Educate the donor (and their family members) on philanthropic best practices.

The Focus – Execute – Assess Model for Philanthropic Impact


Donors face limitless choices of where they can direct their philanthropic capital. From the arts to medical research to education to political advocacy and beyond, there is no shortage of social spheres that require private philanthropic support. But for a donor to achieve deep impact, they need to define some specific fields in which to concentrate. The best philanthropy tends to be focused, highly meaningful to the donor, and sufficiently compelling for the donor to remain engaged for the medium- to long-term.

The coach can help the donor identify those areas of social change that meet these criteria, using questions such as the following:

  1. What are your motivations for doing philanthropy? (Some motivations could include legacy; giving back to the community; family unity; a sense of responsibility; a passion; etc.)
  2. What social challenges are you passionate about?
  3. As you reflect on past donations, what emotions come up for you?
    • Which evoke the strongest emotions?
    • What are those emotions?
    • Are any of those emotions motivators for you to become more deeply involved in similar types of philanthropy?
  1. What experiences in your personal or family history might motivate you to work towards some social change?
  2. Have you identified areas that sufficiently interest you to stay involved for the medium- to long-term?
  3. Have you identified social challenges that you would want to learn more about?
  4. Have you identified social challenges in which you believe private philanthropy could play a positive role?


Having identified one or more areas where the donor is motivated to work towards social change, the donor can begin to reflect on how they will go about doing their philanthropy. Sophisticated donors consider the different types of resources they can bring to social change, how they will make decisions, and the relationship they would like to have with recipients.

The coach can help the donor develop a giving strategy using questions such as the following:

  1. What resources are you prepared to bring to bear (e.g. money, time, reputation, network)?
  2. How would you like to make decisions?
    • Who should be involved in the decision-making (e.g. spouse, children, extended family, advisors)
    • What decision-making procedures would you like to use? (e.g. Unanimous decisions? Majority vote? Does someone have a veto?)
  3. What level of risk are you comfortable taking?
  4. What type of relationship would you like with your recipients?
  5. Who do you imagine as your “typical” recipient? (i.e. does the donor want to support individuals, such as through scholarships, or institutions, such as through operating or capital grants?)
  6. How would like to be recognized for your gifts?


Donors almost always engage with major social problems that defy the solution by any one actor. They are usually complex, entrenched, and multi-causal challenges that require years of coordinated effort to resolve. At best, donors can contribute towards moving the needle on some aspect of a problem. However, being realistic about the extent of likely impact does not mean that donors should avoid assessing the impact they are having.

The coach can help donors determine what they would like to know, and why, so that they can assess for themselves the impact of their philanthropy. The coach can use questions such as the following:

  1. How will you know if you have made progress on this issue?
  2. What does success look like for you?
  3. What information will you require to know if you are making progress?


Behind the scenes, there are a huge number of considerations that go into doing philanthropy well (that is, a philanthropy that is meaningful to the donor, well-structured and monitored, and has impact).  At each step along the way, there are deep human factors that come into play. Personal history, fears, expectations of others (and more) risk making philanthropy less fun and effective than it could be. As a coach, one has a toolkit that can address those aspects of the donor that go beyond their money – that touch upon their motivations, values, and dreams – to help clients and, ultimately, the beneficiaries of their generosity, maximize their philanthropic journey.

[1] “Giving USA 2020: Charitable giving showed solid growth, climbing to $449.64 billion in 2019, one of the highest years for giving on record,” retrieved on 1 April 2021,

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