5 Lessons Brothers for Life Can Teach Us About Successful Early Stage Philanthropies

Only some embryonic philanthropic organizations have been successful at driving change and making a significant impact in the communities they serve while effectively scaling their reach to a broader group within their target market. What sets these organizations apart from the rest? Organizations such as Brothers For Life are designed to operate much like a successful start-up business. They are driven by a talented team of volunteers and board members, a clear mission statement and strategic plan, and passion and dedication to their cause.

Here are five important lessons Brothers for Life can teach us about successful philanthropies:

#1: Clear Mission and Focus

Identifying a clear mission statement and encouraging all team members to stay focused on fulfilling that mission is the foundation of any successful enterprise. Brothers for Life has a clearly defined mission statement, helping recently disabled and injured Israeli combat soldiers recover from their injuries and live productive lives. How this mission is accomplished will vary soldier to soldier, but the overall objective and focus is unwavering. They will not rest until every injured soldier has received proper care.


#2: Engagement on Both Sides

It can be easy for some philanthropic organizations to serve as ‘armchair philanthropists’ when they are adequately funded and may not be completely committed to the cause. Simply sending money to those in need isn’t enough to build a successful organization. It’s important to interact with the communities involved, beneficiaries and donors, and really look into these people’s eyes and learn about their story.

As Rabbi Chaim Levine, Founder and Executive Director of Brothers For Life states, “There are three levels of giving that progressively get more difficult and demanding but at the same time more valuable and impactful: giving one’s money; giving one’s time; giving one’s home and heart.” Brothers for Life builds relationships between the wounded soldiers they serve and the partners that support their efforts. Magic ensues when both parties are engaged and an enduring human connection is built.


#3: Operating Smartly and Prudently

Many early stage philanthropies operate with limited resources in terms of human resources and cash. Given these constraints it is absolutely critical to determine where those resources are best allocated. Prioritization and efficiency must be paramount in the day to day thinking. The individuals involved with managing the organization’s financials need to be acting in the best interest of the organization, set realistic budgets, and work to maximize the budget at every opportunity. Brothers For Life started on a shoe string where its leadership carefully evaluated how every dollar was spent. This attention to detail analyzed how each dollar spent  impacts the organization’s objectives and long term aspirations.


#4: Defining and Measuring Impact

It can be difficult to quantify the impact of an organization’s efforts, so it is up to the leadership team or committee members to define exactly how they will measure the effects of their efforts. This should be done before resources are dedicated. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not always about numbers. While it is valuable to know how many families you fed after a food drive, for example, there are other ways to measure impact. Genuinely understanding how the recipients are benefiting at a personal level means far more than any statistic.


#5: Build Partners Not Donors

Donations and particularly recurring donations are the lifeblood of most early stage philanthropies. It is important to turn donors into partners by igniting their passion and commitment to the cause. There is no comparison in the short and long term benefits of building partners not one off donors. Partners internalize the organization and feel vested in its success. These feelings lead to both larger and more regular contributions to the organizations cause. Brothers For Life built its organization on this premise. Rather than raising money they concentrated on raising the right kind of partners that have the ability to support and scale the organization. This focus alleviates the enormous dedication that must otherwise be devoted to raising money. When an opportunity presented itself to touch more disabled soldiers its partners responded because they are bought into the mission. Not all organizations can accomplish this structure but they all should endeavor to.

Successful philanthropic organizations are built with a strong structure and foundation, operating much like a successful start-up business. Brothers For Life is just one example of a well-organized philanthropic organization that continues to make a significant impact in the community it serves while concurrently expanding its reach within that community. These key strategies can help any organization thrive and make a real impact in their community.