ISSUE NUMBER 29   |   OCTOBER 6, 2014 

Simplicity and Success 

3 ways to reduce labor intensity


Grantmakers, and their consultants, tend to overcomplicate things. Let me give you two simple examples of how this wastes time and prevents success.


First: biweekly meetings. I've worked for funders who wanted me to stage biweekly meetings, for groups both large and small. In all cases, the process came before the goal: Each funder decided to have biweekly meetings before thinking about what they really wanted to accomplish. How effective the meetings were in reaching the goal was not a consideration.


Second example: one-year grants. Offering a year of funding sounds fiscally responsible, since you're checking for success before funding another year. But if you're really likely to keep funding this organization, aren't you being fiscally irresponsible? Think about the time the grantees spend writing proposals and reports; their staff's inability to plan long-term, need to come up with contingency plans, and stress level; their need to focus on budget while waiting for the next grant approval. For a 25K grant, the nonprofit probably spent at least 5K in time just getting it -- and your program officers, board, and grant managers probably spent that much again in time for reviews, write-ups, decision-making, and processing. That 25K grant might easily cost 10K.


So let's look at three concrete things you can do to reduce your labor intensity.


1. Assume that your process is flawed. Don't automatically accept the standard way of doing what you do. Ask yourselves, "Why are we doing it this way?" and "How can we reduce the labor intensity on this project?"


2. Identify three alternatives. Come up with three different options and try them out. Remember those biweekly meetings? Maybe a better plan is to bring everyone together for a well-facilitated one-day meeting, where you can make decisions and move on. Or you could conduct some research first, then let your group make informed choices based on your findings. Or you could just meet monthly, with an email update in between.


3. Figure out the staff costs. Guesstimate the annual salary and benefits of everyone involved. Divide by 2,080 hours (the number of working hours per year) and calculate everyone's hourly rate. Then add those up and decide if that cost is worth it. If it costs a collective 10K for everyone to join biweekly phone calls all year long, wouldn't you rather spend 10K on flying everyone to meet for a day with a facilitator to come to some decisions, so that you can spend the rest of the year implementing rather than meeting?


And with all that spare time you'll gain, go for a walk, play with your kids, take a nap, relax. . . . You deserve it!


For more tips and tools for grantmakers, read my article 5 Grantmaking Challenges You Can Expect, and How To Avoid Them, or listen to my podcast series, Smart Philanthropy


2014 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution. 

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is the president of Putnam Consulting Group, Inc. and author of the Philanthropy411 blog.

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