"The Path Not Taken" by Emma Beeston

Jun 10, 2016

Every second Friday we feature a blog by independent philanthropy advisor, Emma Beeston. To contact Emma, email

Emma's blog this week is entitled "The Path Not Taken":

"The other day I was sat in a queue on the M4 caused by an accident which sent my brain into a stream of ‘what ifs’. What if that was me? What if I had left 5 minutes earlier?

Every day is filled with these moments – not as dramatic (or lucky) as missing a collision – but all the things not done, that did not happen, that we did not chose.  When we think about the paths not taken they can become too numerous to comprehend. And these same thoughts come with us to work.  

For fundraisers it can be the income streams not backed: What if trading had been the right path to take? · For project managers it can be the opportunity costs: What activity are they missing or what are they not achieving because they are busy delivering this project or plan? · For charities it can be trying to demonstrate to a commissioner what would happen in someone’s future if they had not intervened: What choices would our clients have made if we hadn’t been able to help? · For funders it can be wrestling with the consequences of all those applications not funded: What if we had used different criteria for our decisions?

Sometimes there are so many unknowns flowing from acting or not acting that it is difficult to know what to do for the best. This is a common dilemma for the philanthropists I work with. They are rightly concerned with wanting to do the best with their gift and not wanting to see it wasted. But being faced with so many possible recipients for their donation can lead to paralysis.

Psychologist Barry Shwartz explains this beautifully in his TED talk ‘The paradox of choice’. The more choices we have the less likely we are to act. We become paralysed and put off making decisions. We also feel less satisfied by our decisions, even if they are great, because we can easily imagine the choices we could have made and how they could have been better.

Sometimes I feel like I am bursting a philanthropist’s bubble because they come to me wanting to help everyone and I work with them to narrow that down. But I know that it is only through reducing their choices that they will be free to act. Despite all the options, you need to make a decision and do something. That way you can enjoy the rewards from good decisions and learn from your mistakes. And as a Philanthropy Advisor, my job is to help you navigate your way to the right path."

Emma Beeston Consultancy advises funders and philanthropists on giving strategies and processes; selecting causes and charities; assessments and impact monitoring. Services for charities include external perception reviews; bid reviews; training for fundraisers and non-fundraisers involved in bids. For more details visit Emma's website or email  

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