I hope you’ve had a great summer. Vacations, plenty of pool time, a little rest and relaxation — and lots of playing outside. Now it’s time to hunker down and get back in that office to get things done, right?
In my opinion, one of the last places a grantmaker should be is in the office. As foundation staff and trustees, we want to see solutions to community problems. There’s no way to create those solutions without getting out there and forging multiple connections. And there are few people better suited to building those connections than those of us who work in the philanthropic world.
Building connections isn’t something you can do behind a desk. You need to get out into the community. You need to learn about problems by observing and discussing them first hand with those who are affected before you can understand the best solution. You need to look others in the eye, on their own turf, before you can truly understand the assets they can bring to bear for the common good. And you need to listen, listen, listen to the conversations that will almost never take place within your own hallowed walls.
Of course, not every foundation operates in this way. It’s not that we’re reclusive or too self-important to get out there – it’s that we get caught up on the myth of the importance of being in the office.
I once knew a foundation leader who prided himself in never meeting grantees out in the real world, but instead “hosting” them in his very opulent office. While the gesture of sharing his comfortable digs with others was well meant, for grantees it was more intimidating than comfortable. And the time they took to travel to and from the meetings was no doubt precious time they could have spent in other ways that furthered their missions.
I also can list several foundations who effectively cut their program staff off from the outside world every quarter by engaging in overly complex and demanding grant review processes and board docket preparation. In one extreme case, this process kept staff locked inside two months!
Happily, there are a growing number of foundations who understand that program staff and leadership who go outside are ultimately far more valuable than those who stay within. Consider funders like The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, who a few years ago redefined the entire program officer role, changing the title to “Network Officer” and levying the expectation that the majority of time would be spent on the road in communities across the state. What better way to increase knowledge, build trust, and amplify impact?
Getting outside and moving through the community is good for your work and for your foundation’s mission. So as this summer ends, don’t prepare for a winter locked away behind a desk – get back out there!
Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and was recently named one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers.” She will be speaking next at Exponent Philanthropy’s Annual Conference on September 28th in Chicago on “High Risk, High Return Philanthropy“, and is the featured speaker at the North Carolina Network of Grantmaker’s Health Legacy Foundation Board Summit on October 17th in High Point, NC.
“Kris ‘gets’ philanthropy in a way that few consultants can match. I find her voice and ideas refreshing, inspiring and always a bright spot of common sense in a sometimes crazy field.”
– Shawn Dove, CEO, Campaign for Black Male Achievement