AIMing for impact: A quick, simple method for giving decisions

Sometimes it seems as though the opportunities are endless. Another important cause. Another powerful vision or worthwhile investment. The world is full of deep needs, and it can feel like the options for doing good are boundless. It can also seem like there’s a long line of people who know exactly what you need to say “yes” to. So, how do you decide where to give?

I have worked with many families over the years who have felt frustrated that they were saying “yes” based on other people’s expectations. Some felt like they were diluting their impact by saying “yes” to too many things that weren’t central to their giving values or goals.

I was in a conversation with a CEO who felt like he was constantly faced with great opportunities like this. Requests for funding, requests for time – he was annoyed with himself that he said “yes” too often for fear of disappointing someone or having to deal with the hassle of turning down the opportunity in a gracious way.

Though he and his wife had been through a robust strategic planning process, sometimes they needed a simple way to determine whether or not to move ahead with a giving decision. We landed on “AIM” – three basic questions they can ask right away when faced with a new opportunity.

A – Does it ALIGN?

Does this align with my mission and values?

The prerequisite to this question is that you have to know what matters most to you. Whether you do this work as a personal reflection, with your family, or with a trusted advisor, there is nothing that can replace the progress that is made from declaring what you want to accomplish and the values that matter most to you. It can be easy for any of us to get overwhelmed by thinking that we have to have our whole lives figured out in order to declare a mission or values. But clarity can be found when we ask ourselves: “At this point in time, based on my current circumstances and what I know today, what is most true of what I feel called to do?” Your mission and your values don’t need to be printed on family t-shirts, and they don’t need to last for perpetuity, but they do start to become a grounding force in decision-making. The thought work behind those questions starts to build your own intuition of whether or not something aligns with what is important to you. It is the top of the filter. If something aligns, then we move to the next question.

I – Is it IMPORTANT enough?

Is it important enough to be prioritized above my other commitments? Am I willing to say “no” to other things in order to do this?

When I look at a portfolio of potential giving opportunities with a family, it is usually obvious which grants are the give-ins, the easy answers, or the clear wins. The energy in the room goes up, people lean in, the conversation has a higher level of passion, and there is animated discourse about the potential of the organization when considering the clear winners, and they become the bar. If those decisions are obvious, we can then ask if the new opportunity is important enough to make the cut and to say “no” to other things. If the response is neutral, that is very telling. If someone starts to advocate vigorously for why this opportunity is important enough, you know you have some clarity.

That brings us to the final level of the filter. It may “align” with my mission and values. It may be “important” enough for me to say no to other things, but there is still one test it must pass.

M – Is it MINE to do?

Am I uniquely wired and resourced to take this on, and do I feel compelled that this is personally my job to do? 

I got an email from a friend today asking me to give to a cause that she is passionate about. It is a really great organization doing work that is the best in their specific field. I know the organization well and respect them deeply. But it isn’t work my husband and I feel personally called to do.

I want to encourage my friend and this organization. But I am also okay turning down opportunities that are not in the center of our target. It is definitely my friend’s priority, but it is not “mine” to do. It is such a freeing feeling to know how important something is and to see how it aligns and still be able to say, “it is not mine to engage with in this season.”

In the book of I Corinthians, we are reminded that there are many parts to a body, and it is important that each part fulfills its own function. Each of us has a unique role to play. St. Catherine of Sienna said it this way: “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” Being able to confidently say, “This is mine to do!” will help you as you consider a new opportunity in front of you.

There is no perfect framework, but sometimes it’s helpful to have a quick way to analyze an opportunity and make a strong decision. Your time and your resources are too valuable to get distracted by half-hearted “yeses.”

Know the difference that you want to make, and dive into it with intentionality. Take AIM, and watch how God will work through you.

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