What's Your Final Four… of Impact?

Over the past three weeks, as college basketball’s March Madness has turned even the most sports-allergic among us into bracket-betting enthusiasts, the simplest question is usually the most telling: “who do you have in your final four?”

Did you go with the well-known, seemingly ‘reliable’ choices - the number one seeds? Or did you choose a few bracket-busting underdogs, that – if right – help you win big by defying conventional wisdom? Or perhaps a blend of both?  Did you put a bunch of time into carefully choosing your final four, or did you just ‘go with the flow’ and make your selections without much thought or intention?

The more I kept hearing this question about college basketball and how people choose their final four, the more I wondered about a different question that perhaps all of us could be asking one another (and not just in March):

What’s your ‘final four’ of personal impact? 

In other words, among all the things you say you support, the charities and nonprofits you give to, and the campaigns you get behind, what are the top four causes/issues that you believe are the most important of all?  Have you done your ‘brackets’ on that topic?

Maybe these questions are on my mind because one of the key things I learned working in the philanthropic sector is the benefit of focus.  There are a zillion causes and nonprofits that need (and are generally worthy of) support, but going a mile wide and an inch deep is not only oftentimes unsatisfying, but largely inefficient. True impact can come with depth, consistency, and the knowledge and insight that is gained by really engaging with issues and needs.

Generally speaking, while we have unbounded opportunity to care, we have limited capacity to really drive effective change.  Which is why focus and filters are so important – they help create a clear understanding of what you believe in and what you are willing to support (and fight for).

Most of us have a difficult time focusing our impact (and not just because we don’t have paid philanthropic staff to help us).  I mean, let’s face it – the world has lots of needs and challenges, and we want to help. Plus, we have friends that want us to help causes they support.  And then we support organizations out of tradition, out of obligation, out of guilt.  SO. MANY. CAUSES..

Plus, when it comes to causes we support, many of us ‘go-with-the-flow’ – not intentionally perceiving ourselves as true owners of our impact, but as causal participants in someone else’s passion.

We don’t really take a stand on what we stand for. We don’t have a “final four” of purpose.

So in the spirt of ‘filling out your brackets’, here is an exercise I suggest doing.  Write down a list of between eight and 16 issues, causes (or even organizations) that you have been interested in or have supported over the past year(s). They can be causes you have actively supported or ones you causally contributed to with a small contribution, volunteer action, etc.  And then seed a bracket with those 8-16 choices. (for your convenience, blank 8-seed and 16-seed brackets can be found here.

Now go through the brackets just like you would for March Madness.  While you are going through your ‘picks’ ask the following questions:

  • Which cause is more personally meaningful to you?

  • Which cause do you have a deeper knowledge of (or seek to acquire more knowledge about)?

  • Which cause are you more committed to visibly supporting as an advocate and ally?

  • Which cause do you have a comparative advantage in supporting (whether with your time, talent and financial resources)?

  • Which cause do you more enjoy supporting? (Because joy matters too!)

When you are done filling out your brackets, take a look at which causes/organizations are in your final four.  Are these the ones you spend the most amount of time and resources supporting?  If so, then you are pretty impact-aligned. If not, maybe you need to make some adjustments to match what you ‘feel’ with what you ‘do.’

Sure, March Madness is almost over – and next weekend there will be new women’s and men’s college basketball champions. You might even win some money you bet on those choices. But win or lose, when March Madness 2019 is in the record books, and you take a look at your ‘impact brackets’ for the year ahead…

What’s your final four?  And what are you willing to bet on THEM?

Seth Cohen