R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Respect in Philanthropy

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Six simple strategies donors use to create their best legacy.

In our culture, we’ve been trained that those with money are those who deserve our respect. Of course, we all know that this is not true in practice. There are many wealthy people for whom many of us have little or no respect, because they demonstrate little or no respect for others. Unfortunately, the same is true for philanthropy. There are individual philanthropists and foundations among us that are disrespectful to their grantees and their peers, although usually they do not intend to be.

Creating a legacy of respect starts with a donor, and it grows throughout his or her entire philanthropic operation. Here are six simple strategies to cultivate from day one to ensure that respect is always part of your legacy.

1. Always return phone calls and reply to emails promptly. It seems simple, but responsiveness is an area of respect in which many funders frequently fail. Yes, there can be many demands, but however burdensome your work, the burdens on the nonprofits you wish to help are a thousand times greater.

2. Go where the grantees are. No matter how nice your offices, it takes time and at least some expense for nonprofits to travel to you for meetings. Yes, sometimes your offices will be the venue of choice, but always offer to travel to theirs, or to a coffee shop or restaurant near them (where you will, of course, pick up the tab).

3. Simplify your grantmaking process. Nothing says “disrespect” more than a needlessly cumbersome grantmaking process. I once heard a philanthropist say that his grant application was intentionally long and complicated because he wanted grantees to “earn their money.” How much more disrespectful can you be?

4. Speed up. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen funders take months to develop a request for proposals, only to give grantees mere weeks in which to respond. Or, once a funder receives proposals, I’ve seen them take up to six months to respond with a denial or approval. This leaves nonprofits scrambling one minute and left hanging the next, and it is completely disrespectful.

5. Seek and value the input of those you serve. You may have the capital, but those on the ground have the knowledge and insight about needs and solutions that will ultimately make your philanthropic investments more successful. Ask them for their opinions and ideas humbly and sincerely, then be transparent and timely with your thoughts about how you’ll use the information you’ve learned from them.

6. Communicate openly and often. Respectful funders treat grantees as partners, and good partnerships require ongoing, honest communication. Your silence can leave grantees guessing and stressed, whereas ongoing dialog promotes a feeling of inclusion and mutual understanding. This includes being willing to admit when you’ve made mistakes or don’t know the answers. Your grantee partners will respect you all the more for it.

Incorporate these six strategies starting today, and you’ll develop a culture of respect that will grow into a hallmark of everything you do. Even better, it will undergird a higher level of effectiveness and partnership that will leave a legacy far beyond the dollars you give.

Additional Reading: 

Creating a Culture of Respect in Philanthropy

The Delusional Philanthropist 

Philanthropy — The Forgotten Investment Asset

This article was originally written for and published by Forbes.com.

© 2018 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

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