ON-CALL EXPERTISE: When the executive director of a small family foundation wandered into Kris Putnam Walkerly’s session at an Exponent Philanthropy conference, she was immediately hooked. “It was one of the very best sessions I’ve ever attended,” says the Executive Director (who wishes to remain anonymous). “Kris was obviously smart and strategic, but also engaging. She provided concrete information that we could actually use once we left the session. I went up to her immediately and asked about working together.” From there, the ED and Kris engaged in an on-call advising relationship that lasted for 18 months. While the foundation has an overall mission to help families and individuals move out of poverty, the ED and the foundation’s trustees wanted to become more strategic. “Most programs we fund have some research or evidence base to prove that they work,” says the ED, “We were funding a number of programs, but in small amounts, so we decided to carve out a portion of funding to support local programs, even if they didn’t have that evidence base but served large populations in a meaningful way. We worked with Kris to figure out the language to describe this approach, as well as how to manage the process so we wouldn’t get inappropriate requests but could still build relationships. She continually raised questions that I hadn’t thought about deeply enough. That’s what I valued the most in our work together.”
THOUGHT PARTNERSHIP AND SOUNDING BOARD: Kris’s consultation extended both broadly and deeply. In terms of breadth, she helped the ED leverage an informal group of funders and nonprofits into a learning group that now meets regularly. Deeper within the foundation itself, Kris helped the ED tactfully and gracefully end a grantee relationship that was no longer a good fit. “Kris helped me affirm that it made sense to let this grantee know well in advance that we weren’t going to continue funding, and suggested ways to go about it that would be helpful to the grantee, explaining why we made the decision without sharing too much detail. Her knowledge of communications was extremely valuable in that regard.” Kris also helped the ED communicate with a key board member. “He’s is a very busy man and his communication style is very different than mine,” says the ED. “We engage mostly by email. Kris gave me very specific questions to ask, and that moved the needle, so now I continue to ask them on an annual basis.” The ED regularly reads Kris’s Confident Giving newsletters and shares them with others in the community to generate conversation around questions and issues. As part of their advising relationship, Kris and the ED also discussed different chapters in Kris’s Confident Giving book.
JUDGEMENT-FREE ADVICE AND COACHING: “I found it helpful to start the day with a chapter and some reflection time instead of just starting working,” she says. “That helped get my mind oriented to where it ought to be, less task-focused and more focused on where we’re going and how to get there. I went through most of the book that way.” Coming into philanthropy from a career in higher education, the ED knew she had some things to learn, and Kris provided the perfect guidance and support. “It was so reassuring to know that I had an experienced resource I could contact at any time,” she says. “If I was struggling with an issue I knew I could contact Kris, and she was always very responsive.” “Since we are small, needing advice meant interrupting my board, which I didn’t want to do,” the ED says. “There was great value in having a seasoned professional who had my back, wouldn’t judge me, and would talk things through with me. Kris has such a wide range of experience in working with foundations of all sizes, for so many years, that there’s a deep knowledge base to tap into. I wish I had used her even more!”