Category Archives: Strategy

How We Constrain Ourselves

I fly a good bit for my work. As a seasoned traveler, you’d expect that I’d have strategies and practices I use to make the experience more comfortable and productive. There are other things I do because they are obvious and expected. For example, when in first class, use the first-class bathroom. But recently, as I sat in first class waiting to use the bathroom for more than 10 minutes, it occurred to me that the coach bathroom was identical AND the walk allowed me to stretch my legs. I had constrained myself by sticking to my typical airplane routine and not considering all the options available. Walking back through a half empty plane I was surprised at how many … Continue reading How We Constrain Ourselves

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Three Things That Local Organizations Know But Foundations Often Miss

The Putnam team recently authored two case studies for Casey Family Programs about their Communities of Hope initiative. In Hagerstown, Maryland and Gainesville, Florida, we explored collaborations among local agencies to improve conditions and opportunities for families and children. These projects were wide-reaching and complex – just like the myriad of issues they seek to address. But in both, we saw three common threads that we believe are making these successful efforts for the community and successful investments for Casey Family Programs. These aren’t aspects of success that you can measure with metrics or data, and they are things that many funders often either take for granted or completely overlook. Yet, when they are present, we believe they make a night-and-day difference in effectiveness:  1. Personal … Continue reading Three Things That Local Organizations Know But Foundations Often Miss

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Create a Culture of Learning

A culture of learning is one that encourages ongoing inquiry and questioning. It is comfortable with the fact that there is always more to learn and explore, and therefore the “work” of learning is never-ending. Learning is at the core of all research and development. The more you approach work with a sense of curiosity and inquiry, the more you can research and develop new approaches. This can be a challenge for foundation staff or boards who are geared toward finding the “one” solution to a challenge, checking it off the list, and moving on. But the culture of learning and ongoing inquiry is why cell phones now fit in the palm of your hand, and why more cancers are … Continue reading Create a Culture of Learning

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

By 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 … Continue reading This Year, Make a Point to Think About “The Others”

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Making the Case For (Your Own) Support

In my last post, I explained the ways that many individuals in foundations adopt a poverty mentality rather than an abundance mentality when it comes to their own personal activities. Many foundation staff and leaders sell themselves short and eschew the support they need for the sake of not taking precious resources away from others. But in doing so, they often undermine their effectiveness and that of their foundation. Support for your work is important. It allows you to maximize efficiency, gain valuable knowledge, create and leverage partners, explore creative solutions, and thereby promote and further the foundation’s mission. That support could take a number of forms, such as: An administrative support staff person A software upgrade Travel to a … Continue reading Making the Case For (Your Own) Support

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Embracing a Mindset of Abundance

Contrary to what one might assume from the phrase, having an “abundance mentality” has nothing to do with money. Instead, it has everything to do with your foundation’s beliefs, organizational culture, and how it approaches its work. At its core, an abundance mentality is based in a belief that almost anything is possible. David conquered Goliath, and you can help conquer just about anything if you’re willing to step forward and make an effort and an investment. No doubt you’ve seen both individuals and organizations that embrace an abundance mentality, and those who are trapped in a mentality of poverty.  The abundance mentality includes the belief that the answers are out there, if we only are willing to invest in … Continue reading Embracing a Mindset of Abundance

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12 Tools to Achieve Big Impact

Often in the world of philanthropy, the problems we wish to address seem overwhelmingly large and complex. And if you’re a small foundation, the scant assets you have to wage against the world of need can seem almost pointless. But as with any complex problem, the key is to break it down and examine its parts to discover that pivotal point where your action can begin to fuel a solution. One way to achieve big impact is by engaging in research and development (R&D) philanthropy. R&D philanthropy is planned, creative work aimed at discovering new knowledge or developing new and significantly improved goods and services to address an identified need. The ways in which foundations can engage in R&D philanthropy … Continue reading 12 Tools to Achieve Big Impact

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Streamlining is Simple…Start Small

There are many reasons why philanthropy should streamline – excessively long strategic planning processes, grant proposals that take 8 months to be funded, board meeting dockets that measure 3 inches high – and the task can seem daunting. However, there is a way to quickly streamline…by starting small. Let me give you an example: I recently stayed at the Marriot Marquis in Washington, DC and ordered room service. You know the routine:  Order food, wait, hotel staff brings it in your room, they hand you a bill, you sign it while they stand around, and they leave.  Not anymore. The Marriott has eliminated futzing with the bill! Instead they deliver you the food, and promptly walk out the door. No … Continue reading Streamlining is Simple…Start Small

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Foundations Move at the Speed of…Snails

I was sitting in a workshop last week with some of the world’s leading business consultants. We were advised that in this time of rapidly changing technology and “disruption” what organizational leaders value most is speed. The more we can help our clients rapidly improve, develop and implement strategies, and generate new innovations, the better. “Except for philanthropy,” I thought. In my experience many grantmakers move at a snail’s pace. Let me give you some examples: Finding it perfectly acceptable to take nine months to make a grant. (Why not nine weeks, or even nine days? If you really need nine months to make a decision, something is very wrong with your process.) “Collaborations” of funders that meet monthly for years without … Continue reading Foundations Move at the Speed of…Snails

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Managing and Exceeding Community Expectations

Say you’re part of a new foundation, or one that is re-inventing itself, or even one that’s been around for a bit but has gotten a bit lethargic. You’re ready to step up, infuse energy into your work and rally community support. That’s fantastic! But you may also be somewhat fearful or hesitant. What if the community doesn’t like what you’re doing? What if your big idea or new direction doesn’t work? What if the community likes it too much and you’re overrun with demands and requests? These kinds of fears are normal. One important key to managing your foundation’s transition in a community is to manage – and then exceed – community expectations. Here are 8 tips to help … Continue reading Managing and Exceeding Community Expectations

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