Three ways to cede control — and improve your funding results.
Most funders — whether institutional or individual — want to give back to society in meaningful ways. But many delude themselves by thinking they know more than they do, have the perfect solution to apply to a problem or are in the best position to make key decisions about where to invest in the problem they hope to solve. At their core, they believe that they know best or are better able to learn about and analyze problems and solutions than the people whom they purport to serve.
This is perfectly understandable since our society tends to equate the accumulation of wealth with superior intellect — or at least with superior know-how. Yet these same funders are often frustrated by the poor results of their philanthropic investments.
To these funders, I say, “Just give up” — control, that is.
In the world of need, few people have knowledge as deep as those who experience that need daily. Instead of confusing poverty or other forms of need with an inability to innovate or a lack of motivation to improve, funders should seek the answers they desire within the communities they wish to serve. In other words, give up the control you have over your philanthropic funds to those who truly know what it will take to make change.
How do you give up (or at least share) control and still get results — better results than you’ll get by keeping a tight rein? Here are three key ways to cede control — and improve your funding results:
1. Let the community guide your learning. As a funder, you may have researched intensively. You may have read every paper and study published on a particular topic. Maybe you’ve met with some of the leading minds on your issue. Heck, perhaps you’ve even funded studies yourself. But when it comes to social issues, the people who are most affected can be your most valuable sounding board and your greatest source of insight. Never forget that you don’t know what you don’t know — but the people you want to help most certainly do. And with a little trust building on your part, they’ll probably be happy to enlighten you.
2. Look for homegrown solutions. As funders with an eye toward solving problems, nothing excites us more than a good idea that has shown big impact. Many of us practically drool over an evidence-based practice that we think will work wonders in our own communities. But we should recognize that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and even interventions that have a strong base of evidence for effectiveness in one community may completely miss the mark in another. Culture, trusting relationships and the ability to recognize and build on a community’s unique assets are all key components of success. And no one understands a community’s culture, relationships and assets like those who live there. Let those who live the problems inform — or, even better, determine — the solutions.
3. Invest beyond the usual suspects. Once you’ve given others the power to inform your understanding and name their own solutions, it’s time to make investments. You’ll likely want to turn to your trusted grantees and partners, excited to bring them into the mix as allies who will appreciate your newfound knowledge and new approach. While your long-term grantees may indeed play a valuable role, they may not be the best to implement a strategy or, at least, not best to take the lead. That spot is likely better filled by an organization that is deeply embedded in and trusted by the community — one that is completely plugged in to the culture, relationships and assets mentioned in the point above. This may very well be an organization that is (or at least appears to be) underdeveloped relative to your usual grantees. Your philanthropic investments may need to include funds for capacity building, professional development or general operating support to help the organization increase and maximize its own effectiveness. Your timeline for change may need to be longer. But in the end, you’ll emerge with a new ally and a stronger community resource that can continue to exert positive influence for years to come.
These three points apply to any funder, from the smallest individual donor to the largest national foundation. The scope and size of your work may vary, but one key lesson should always hold true: If you really want to help people, give up some control. Ask them what they need to make change, and then give them the means to do it.
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This article was originally published by Forbes.
© 2018 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.
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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for 20 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers three years in a row. Author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.” For more ways to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group.
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