This Year, Make a Point to Think About “The Others”

London Morning Commuters On Their Way To WorkplaceBy all accounts, this year will be one of uncertainty the likes of which we’ve not seen in a while. Everyone is poised to see what a new presidency will bring. Our nation is on edge and some are even on high alert. If anything is certain, it is that change of some sort will come.

As funders, we can’t ignore that fact that there are many “others” out there who don’t necessarily understand or agree with our work. The change that will come will no doubt have an impact on what we do. These “others” will have a significant bearing on our effectiveness.

It’s understandable that many of us have been focused on serving specific populations, whether defined by income, race, geography, educational attainment, health issues or more. The challenges of healthcare, public education, economic development and other areas in which we seek to make change are huge – more than enough to command our full attention. But now, we must consider the fact that those we aren’t serving may have an impact on our work.

This not to say that we shouldn’t stick to our missions and goals, or jump into new funding areas to appease our new awareness of groups that have considered themselves ignored. But we should keep in mind that there are other voices that can affect our ability to achieve our missions.

Even if we don’t agree with “the others,” even if their view of life is diametrically opposed to ours, we must be aware of their perspectives and be willing to engage as we can to find the common ground that makes for healthy, stable, supportive communities. I’m not talking about fraternizing with hate groups, but being mindful of any reasonable voice that perhaps hasn’t been on our radar screen in the past.

This year, as we plan our strategies and work in our communities, we should make it a point to ask ourselves about “the others”:

  • Who are the others, outside our primary focus, who might care about this work?
  • Who might feel threatened by it? How can we assuage their fears?
  • Who might be an unlikely ally? How can we tap into their strengths and secure their support?
  • Who might we unintentionally alienate or injure as we pursue our strategy? How can we avoid that or address it in advance?

Yes, this is more work. Yes, it may make things more complex. But this has become the nature of the society in which we live. If the election taught us anything, it is that our nation is not a unified one. Overcoming divisions of all kinds will be the work of generations. But if there is one place where division might be overcome, it is in philanthropy. Use your voice. Use your ears. And strive for a community where no one feels like “the others.”

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor, author of the new book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, and was recently named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers.  Want more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving? Read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.

Kris will be sharing the findings of her latest report, “The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity,” at several upcoming events: a webinar for National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers onJanuary 19, and a workshop for the Colorado Association of Foundations in Denver on January 26.

“Working with Putnam is extremely beneficial. Their attention to detail – specifically in analyzing and sharing information to support our decision making – helped us to stay organized and on time and really made an RFP process that was so overwhelmingly big seem well organized to all participants.”

~Maisha Simmons, Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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