10 Questions to Improve Your Philanthropy


If you want to quickly improve your philanthropy, start by asking yourself these 10 questions.

It’s hard to imagine something more inspiring related to collective learning and improvement than research and development teams working with university data scientists to predict COVID-19 hot spots and then placing clinical trials in those places to speed the creation of a vaccine.

But this kind of learning shouldn’t just be confined to premier data scientists working on the world’s leading problem. The work of philanthropy is just as vital and requires the same kinds of learning, agility, and innovation. And while this kind of applied excellence might feel out of reach, it’s actually not all that complicated.

The team involved in the vaccine trial project applied what they knew carefully and intentionally and made advancements. In the same way, you can advance your work by continually learning and applying what you learn. This happens by getting “learning” out of your head and into the workflow through documentation, discussion, and decisions so that you can quickly reach your philanthropic goals.

Where to begin? By asking questions. Here are 10 “learning questions” I share with my private coaching clients that you can regularly ask yourself to continuously improve your philanthropy:

  1. What are the top three things we have learned about our philanthropic strategy thus far?
  2. What has surprised us?
  3. What are some of our early accomplishments/wins?
  4. What progress are we making overall?
  5. Where are we not making progress? Why?
  6. What has been the most challenging?
  7. If we could do it all over again, what would we do differently?
  8. Have conditions changed externally or internally that impact our approach?
  9. At this time, should we make any modifications or improvements? If so, what are they?
  10. Are there any new opportunities we should take advantage of?

The key is incorporating continuous learning into your everyday, ongoing work. The best way to do that is to make it a habit by starting with a few simple, ongoing activities.

Chances are, you already have many kinds of information available to you that can inform your learning: grantee reports, grantee convenings, evaluations, dashboards, your understanding of changing conditions, and the observations and knowledge of your staff, trustees, consultants, and grantees. You could also seek new insights at minimal cost by conducting an online survey, convening all your stakeholders, soliciting outside perspectives, or simply asking questions.

Make learning part of your and your team’s work plans. You can even create individual learning agendas, for which you’ll hold your team accountable. And don’t forget that learning should always be a two-way street. Be clear that you don’t have all the answers, be honest about where you have questions, and be open to where you’d like to improve your own knowledge or capacity.

Lastly, don’t forget the exponential potential to learn through collaboration. Like the vaccine trial team, philanthropists who practice everyday excellence together and across sectors vastly increase their ability to work more effectively and make the kinds of change the world needs.

Need help learning from your experiences from the past year to quickly improve your giving? Schedule a free strategy call with me. I’m happy to share my best advice to help you assess what you’ve learned and identify changes to make so that you can focus on what’s most important!

VIP Strategy & Coaching Day

For decades, I’ve worked hand-in-hand with global philanthropists, celebrity activists, and wealth advisors who utilize my philanthropic advisor services. Now, you can enjoy a one-on-one private VIP Strategy & Coaching Day to help improve the impact of your giving. This custom-designed VIP Strategy and Coaching Day can be modified to fit your needs. We can schedule the training over a multi-day period, broken out into 2 to 3-hour sessions so that we don’t interfere with other events on your calendar. My virtual coaching day is run via Zoom, and there are breaks scheduled into the day. Email me at kris@putnam-consulting.com to learn more.

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