3 Potential Levels of Change to Determine Your Funding Focus


lenses-690179_1920What will you fund, and what will you not fund?

It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any funder knows how quickly one can be overwhelmed by the complexity. Depending on your mission and capacity, your focus could include broad program areas such as health or education. Or, it might be concentrated in specific areas like increasing access to high-quality early childhood education.

In general, there are three potential levels of change that I encourage my clients to explore to determine where they can effect change, based on their capacity:

  • People
  • Organization
  • Fields

For the sake of example, let’s assume your interest is in substance abuse treatment. Your funding focus could take one or more of the following forms:

  • You might decide the front lines are the place to be, and support programs that provide treatment to individuals struggling with addiction. This helps people. OR
  • You might recognize that the organizations that provide substance abuse treatment are operating on a shoestring and need help with staff training, strategic planning, board development or other capacity issues, so you provide funding to improve their operations. This focuses on organizations. OR
  • You may realize that the stigma of substance abuse prevents people from getting help so you fund a national communications campaign to reduce the stigma. In this case, you are focusing on the entire field.

What you want to fund may also inform where you’ll place your funding focus – locally, statewide, nationally or globally – and vice versa. If you want to create change for individuals in the substance abuse example above, you may decide to start in a single community. If you’re bound by geography but want to support the field nationwide, then you may need to support the participation of local organizations in national networks. The key is to find the most appropriate (or creative) nexus of what and where to serve your mission.

To learn more about your funding focus and to explore additional practices for effective grantmaking, download your free copy of “From Essential to Savvy: Key Practices For Effective Grantmaking.”

© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. 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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