In my experience, one thing holds philanthropists back from achieving dramatic impact on the issues and causes they care most about: They have a poverty mentality. It might seem like an oxymoron for people with wealth, or professional access to wealth, to experience a form of poverty, but hear me out. A poverty mentality in philanthropy is a belief that maintaining a Spartan operation equates to efficiency and effectiveness, and that you and/or your staff don’t deserve to invest in your own success. For example:
- Your executive director spends a significant portion of her time handling basic administrative activities, such as meeting logistics, travel reimbursement, taking minutes, and copyediting board dockets, leaving her less time to focus on strategy, planning, building relationships, developing partnerships, and thinking. Yet you won’t allow her to hire an administrative assistant, because you want to keep your overhead low and your grant budget high.
- You refuse to allow your staff to take their laptops on business trips, because they might drop and break them. The fact that they are unable to respond to emails from grantees or work while on the road is of less concern.
- You want to launch a new grantmaking initiative. You aren’t sure how to go about it, but you know you need to hire a consultant to help you. Another foundation highly recommends two consultants they’ve used with very successful results. But in the name of shopping for “the best value,” you put together a complex RFP – one that details the entire process of exactly how the consultant should approach the project. You send the RFP to 20 consultants and don’t allow for extra staff support to evaluate their responses.
The problem here is that you are hamstringing your philanthropy by not investing in it. Further, the internal investments you are making in time and money are hindering, not advancing, your mission.
Funders who embrace an abundance mentality believe that internal investment is important, and that the more they put into their operation and relationships, the more they get out of them.
- Believe their missions deserve the best partners. They ask, “Who are the top experts in the country or world who can inform our strategy?” and reach out to them.
- Invest in their own infrastructure. They ask themselves, “What tools, resources, or technology will help our staff and grantees become more effective? Better yet, why don’t we ask them?”
- Recognize that maximizing the impact of their grantmaking budgets involves more than giving away money. The value of the organization’s top people having time to read, think, explore, strategize, create, and innovate far exceeds the cost of a $40,000-a-year administrative assistant, in terms of impact and efficiency.
When you embrace abundance and realize the benefits of investing in your own capacity in order to better achieve your mission, everybody wins. Your staff become more capable, your partners more engaged, and your grantees better supported. As a result, you are all more able to make the change you seek.
Want to learn more? This post was adapted from The Putnam Guide: 5 Best Practices of Extraordinary Grantmakers, available for free download on my website. You can also check out my new book, Confident Giving.
Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and was recently named one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers.” Her clients include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, among dozens of others. Learn more at putnam-consulting.com.
“Creating a theory of change is challenging work, but Kris helped us envision and plan where we want to go and did so in a way that incorporates diverse perspectives and complex ideals. Now we are much more targeted and clear about what we’re working to accomplish and how we’ll get here.”
~Sue Krey, President, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland