Category Archives: Strategy

13 Questions To Learn From Your Grantmaking

Most philanthropies seek to be strategic and have an impact. Yet few build their own internal capacity to be strategic grantmakers. In particular, most funders forget to intentionally learn from their initial piloting and testing of strategies so that they can make early modifications and course corrections. Learning isn’t hard to do, but it must be intentional, documented, discussed among your team, and lead to decision-making. It can’t simply exist inside a program officer’s head. One of our clients, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, asks themselves “What will make or break this grant?” when deciding whether to recommend a significant grant to their board, so that they are clear on the risks involved and what needs to happen to … Continue reading 13 Questions To Learn From Your Grantmaking

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Want Feedback? Give It A Minute

My colleague was lamenting the other day about how difficult it often is to get more than a one-word answer from her 9-year-old son when he comes home from school. “How was your day?” she’ll ask. “Fine,” is the reply. “What did you do today?” “Stuff.” “Didn’t you do anything interesting?” “No.” It’s not that her son is particularly non-communicative; later in the evening (like when it’s time to go to sleep) he’s full of stories about the day and questions. My colleague realized that when her boy arrives home from school, he simply needs a break from thinking about it, or else wants time to process everything before discussing it. We agreed that it’s not this is not just … Continue reading Want Feedback? Give It A Minute

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Head-Scratching, or Head-Nodding? 5 Tips for Communicating the Complex

The other day, my five-year-old twins were explaining a playground game to me. They were confident, they were patient with me, and they went into great detail, but there was no question that the rules of the game were far too complex for me – an outsider – to grasp. I felt that given enough time, I probably could have understood, but the moment passed and we all moved on to other things. I know they were probably disappointed in my slow uptake, but thankfully they’ve forgiven me. This put me in mind of a similar story that a philanthropist shared recently. His foundation has invested a great deal of money and time in a comprehensive new initiative, but when … Continue reading Head-Scratching, or Head-Nodding? 5 Tips for Communicating the Complex

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What Do You Know About Streamlining the Grantmaking Process?

We can all probably agree that grantmaking is not the most efficient process in the world – either for grantseekers or grantmakers. Thankfully, there are efforts underway like the Grants Managers Network (GMN) Project Streamline to help add simplicity and sense to the complex work of investing philanthropic dollars. More specifically, Project Streamline helps grantmakers assess their practices and improve them in ways that ensures funders get the information they need, while reducing the application and reporting burden for grantseekers. Grantmaking simplicity is a big sandbox in which to play. Project Streamline is only one effort, and there are many, many facets to grantmaking complexity. That’s why GMN and I want to know: What have you learned to help improve … Continue reading What Do You Know About Streamlining the Grantmaking Process?

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Bringing Your New Strategic Plan Online Without Alienating Your Community

I recently wrote about the phrase funders say that terrifies grantees: “We’re about to start a strategic planning process.” Although there are many things I listed that you can do to help mitigate grantee angst during a strategic planning process, the work doesn’t stop when the final plan is approved. It’s likely that many grantees who relied on your funding in the past may not be part of your future plan, or will constitute a much smaller percentage of your grantmaking budget. If that’s the case, don’t make hearing the news like ripping off a Bandaid. Instead, make sure your new strategic plan rollout includes short-term strategies to help your grantees navigate the transition. For example: Communicate your new priorities clearly. Before sharing your … Continue reading Bringing Your New Strategic Plan Online Without Alienating Your Community

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How to Strike Fear in the Hearts of Grantees

In my experience, few words strike fear in the hearts of foundation grantees like the following, when dropped by a program officer’s lips:  We’re about to start a strategic planning process.  Aarrrgh! Nooooo! I can almost hear the screams of terror here in my top-secret vacation retreat spot. And who can blame them?  A funder undergoing strategic planning often pulls the rug out from under grantees, at least temporarily, while the funder “suspends grantmaking” for a few months or even a year to “evaluate priorities and approaches.”  During that time, grantees might be asked to answer questions about their work, participate in discussion or focus groups, or even (gulp) share their opinions with funders in person. And all the while, … Continue reading How to Strike Fear in the Hearts of Grantees

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Unlikely Allies Unite for a Policy Win

It used to be that you could scour the country and be hard-pressed to find a foundation working in the public policy arena. Fortunately, that’s changing as more and more foundations realize that the root causes of the issues they want to address are themselves rooted within the workings of policy. But while it’s more common to find foundations working in policy, it’s still quite uncommon to find them working together on a policy issue. Policy is complicated, and figuring out one’s view and position around policy can be even more so. That’s one reason the Putnam team was so pleased to work with The Stuart Foundation in San Francisco on a recent case study about a loose collaboration of … Continue reading Unlikely Allies Unite for a Policy Win

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5 Questions to Improve Your Philanthropic Giving in 2015

Ready or not, 2015 is here! If you want to achieve dramatic results this year (and who doesn’t?) ask yourself these 5 questions: What can I learn in the next three months that will improve my grantmaking for the remainder of the year? You might need to conduct an evaluation, retain an expert advisor, or spend the day reading articles and listening to podcasts about a certain topic. Armed with new insight, you will be better prepared to allocate your talent, time and resources, and achieve more dramatic results. What holds me back? Identify and eliminate it. If you are overwhelmed by email, commit to reaching “Inbox Zero” by the end of January. Do you have a poverty mentality, believing … Continue reading 5 Questions to Improve Your Philanthropic Giving in 2015

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