ISSUE NUMBER 106 | APRIL 26, 2016 

How Far Ahead Are You Looking?

Earlier this year, I attended a lovely wedding with my family. The bride was beautiful, the setting was idyllic, the band was rocking, and the reception was stunning.  No doubt, it was easily three times the cost of my own wedding, eight blissful years ago.
As I sat there enjoying the elegance of it all, my stepdaughter leaned toward me and said, "Don't worry. I'm not expecting anything like this for my wedding."
Her comment hit me like a ton of bricks - not because I was thinking about wedding expenses, but because I hadn't even considered the fact that, as a 24-year-old woman, she actually could get married in just a few years. (If I had a soundtrack to my life, this would be one of those moments where the pretty music is interrupted by the sound of a needle scraping across a record.)
I realized as I processed her comment that I had been so focused on getting her through high school and then college, I completely forgot to think further into the future. As a result, I now feel completely unprepared for the potential of a wedding (not to mention its related cost).
In philanthropy, as in life, it pays to look beyond the next turn, past the middle distance, and as far into the future as you can imagine. As you plan a new grant program, or foundation strategy, or a new initiative, you should consider not just the term of your funding but the time beyond that.
Here's an example of what I mean. We are currently working with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to document a seven-year, intentionally time-limited strategy to help increase awareness of the importance of summer enrichment and support for increasing investment in quality summer learning across the state of California. Although Packard's investment was for seven years, the began their though process about this investment by thinking 10 or even 20 years down the road. They imagined what a strong summer learning system would look like in California and what they could do in the near term to secure an infrastructure to achieve that longer-term vision. As a result, they've build networks and support structures that can continue to build on the momentum their investment created.
We don't have to know everything that's coming in the future or be able to look into a crystal ball. But it does help to determine what could be likely to happen, what we envision with respect to those anticipated events, and what we can do now or in the near future to start laying the groundwork for our vision. In fact, we all should look regularly out over the next 10 to 20 years to anticipate what might be coming and how we can best prepare.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor.  She will be speaking at the Exponent Philanthropy National Conference on September 28, 2016 in Chicago on "High Risk, High Return: How to Fulfill the Promise of 'R&D' Style Philanthropy."

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