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Generosity can take many different forms. As the nation’s largest provider of support services to private foundations, every day we see inspiring examples of the variety and creativity that can make giving so impactful for the recipient—and rewarding for the giver.

The most common ways to give are in time, talent and treasure — an idea of Biblical origin reinforcing that all individuals are capable of uniquely sharing with others and may do so in a variety of ways. Over the years, this notion has been adopted in various ways and overtime has become a simple and effective framework for philanthropy. Let’s explore it here.

The Gift of Time

Essentially, the gift of time means just that: the volunteering of one’s own time to help others. Such giving can vary widely depending on:

1. The needs of specific populations, communications and charitable organizations.

2. The preferences and interests of the giver.

Giving time can be direct, hands-on service in which the giver personally interacts with those in need. Some examples include tutoring children at a homeless shelter; visiting nursing home residents; serving meals in a soup kitchen; or helping an understaffed charity organize a food drive. Giving time can also be indirect service such as stocking shelves at a food pantry, helping to staff a charity fundraiser, or distributing flyers and making telemarketing calls to support a charitable cause.

For some individuals and families, the giving of time might include their efforts to create and run a private foundation. The most elaborate of formal charitable giving vehicles, private foundations offer nearly endless philanthropic capabilities, from establishing awards and scholarship programs, to conducting and funding research, to granting to charities and people in need, to making program- and mission-related investments. Running such initiatives requires considerable time and dedication as well as financial resources.

The Gift of Talent

A more unique and personal way for individuals to give is by sharing their talents, such as their intellectual capital, professional expertise, unique skills and hobbies, and even their social networks to bolster a charitable effort. Some examples:

  • An investment advisor manages the endowment of a charity
  • A doctor provides pro bono office hours at a local clinic
  • A development professional provides fundraising assistance to a charity
  • An avid tennis player offers instruction and coaching at a local Boys & Girls Club
  • A graduate student conducts and monitors research for a nonprofit to help them understand the population they serve
  • A celebrity writes a series of op-eds helping to bring attention to civil rights violations and encourages her large network to participate in a charity fundraiser

This type of philanthropy is highly valued because it provides a service or expertise that is often far more expensive or sophisticated than what the recipients (e.g., a charity or a family in need) could afford to acquire on their own.

The Gift of Treasure

By and large, treasure is a euphemism for money or other items with intrinsic value. Cash is the most common “treasure” to give but charitable donations may also be made in the form of public and private securities, real estate, collectibles, royalty streams, and other assets.

Those with private foundations may donate in myriad other ways, such as through grants, program-related loans and loan guarantees, scholarships, and impact investments. Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are another popular way to give, allowing donors to quickly formalize their philanthropy, take an immediate tax deduction and make their donations anonymously.

Gifting treasure has no set schedule; some donors choose to give on a regular basis, earmarking a certain dollar amount or percentage of their income for philanthropy. Others opt for greater flexibility, allowing themselves to give when a need arises or the spirit strikes. And others choose to incorporate their giving into an estate plan, leveraging charitable bequests and other planned giving vehicles to pass along their “treasure” to the intended recipients posthumously.

A life of giving offers many opportunities to change the world for the better. As the examples below illustrate, each giver utilizes the Time, Talent, Treasure framework in ways that are unique to them, their strengths and their interests.


For seasoned philanthropists and novice givers alike (including children), the framework of time, talent and treasure is a constructive way to determine how they can contribute to others—and society at large— throughout their lives in a way that makes sense for them.

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