Much has been written about giving not being an easy task. Aristotle is the most quoted on this topic: To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter. [Aristotle 360BC]

You’ve heard it before, right? Everyone has.

As a giving advisor, I thank Aristotle frequently. He alerts new philanthropists to the need to approach giving in a considered, purposeful and thoughtful way. He alerts philanthropists to the need to skill up.

On the other hand, his influence is also negative. He warns that philanthropy will be hard to do well and puts the fear of failure into a new philanthropist’s mind. At filantropia we had Aristotle in mind when we defined the 5 Stages of Philanthropy.

The 5 Stages of Philanthropy are:

Desire + Inertia + Experimentation + Escalation + Nirvana


Is when you want to do good or make a difference. You feel this intensely, either as a responsibility, a craving, or a wish and an opportunity. You know in your gut that you have to do it.


Is when you know you should start, but you just can’t. Often life’s urgent demands get in the way. At times inertia becomes paralysis because you are afraid of what you don’t know, or what you think you cannot do well enough, or that you might not meet expectations, even though they may be your own. With paralysis comes fear. Fear, paralysis and inertia can hold you at this stage for an excruciatingly long time. Thanks Aristotle.


Is when you start opening up to a few people with similar interests, you start connecting with a few charities, you make some small grants and you create some momentum. You start to feel good because you are learning, and you are giving.


Is when you prioritise your giving, set aside time for it, conduct your research intentionally, establish stronger connections with charities, and make some substantial (for you) donations. You now give to things that truly matter to you, and the results of your giving begin to emerge. You experience what giving means and you feel energised.


Your giving takes on a life of its own and you may become a facilitator for others’ giving journeys. Your giving moves you forward, creates its own momentum; you have achieved flow in philanthropy. As Diana, Princess of Wales, once put it: “ (Giving) is a goal and an essential part of my life – a kind of destiny.



To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter. [Aristotle 360BC]

Giving advice is often targeted at the Experimentation and Escalation stages. Advisors provide networks and access to other philanthropists, help to identify charities, assist with research, negotiations with charities, and the definition of impact that substantial donations have the potential to make. All of these are important elements in effective philanthropy.

As well as understanding these important elements, at filantropia we have spent a lot of time ‘rethinking philanthropy’ and encapsulating what we know in models such as the 5 Stages of Philanthropy.

From our experience we deduce that it is these two early stages, Desire and Inertia, where emerging philanthropists need specialist support.

It takes a lot of courage to step into a field of work where you feel green and inexperienced, especially if you believe that others in the family circle are judging you. These are non-active stages, often not visible, and the issues experienced can be difficult to identify and diagnose. Getting stuck can result in philanthropists wondering whether persisting is worthwhile, or whether they should give up on all of it; bury the desire and succumb to inertia, paralysis and fear.

Our process for helping begins with getting philanthropists to articulate the desire and tap into its root. We guide people to reflect on their values, explore their giving influences, look at what their personal good fortune means to them, and what the purpose of their excess wealth is. You need this introspection.

Then we help them articulate their philanthropy beliefs – how can my private money be put to work most effectively in the public arena? You need this exploration.

Finally, we work with philanthropists to shape their personal vision and mission for their giving. This is the beginning of the creation of their giving plan of action. Introspection and exploration brings desire to the surface, makes it real, tangible, and therefore undeniable. It can no longer be ignored or buried.

The second stage of philanthropy, Inertia, is a different beast. As with your fitness goals when you hire a personal trainer to keep you on track, in philanthropy you also need a coach, a mentor, a critical friend. Someone to hold you to account in the early stages, to keep you focused and motivated, to set some deadlines and goals for you. Later it’s someone to toss ideas around with, to help overcome barriers and finally to celebrate success – because only your coach knows the real journey you have taken.

Rethinking philanthropy means highlighting these non-active stages of philanthropy and taking action. Only by truly understanding your Desire, and overcoming your Inertia can you start on the road to your Nirvana.

Teresa Zolnierkiewicz is the co-founder and director of filantropia rethinking philanthropy Pty.Ltd. 

filantropia is a professional advisory firm specialising in philanthropy. Our personalised services for philanthropists include formal programs and coaching. Our mission is to help you succeed as a philanthropist. Visit