3 Unexpected Lessons That Stuck


lessonMore years ago than I care to count, I received a Masters in Social Work from San Francisco State University. Although I never practiced as a clinical social worker, I consider myself to be doing “macro” social work every day. The lessons I learned in that program have contributed a great deal to my work in philanthropy, first as a foundation staffer and now as a consultant.

However, the three lessons that have stuck with me the most vividly, and have proven to be stalwart wisdom throughout my career, have little to do with social work per-se and everything to do with how our world works. They guide my thinking in every project, my personal and professional interactions, and the way I view every challenge that presents itself.

These three lessons have helped me think clearly and creatively, so I thought I might share them with you.

1) She who frames the debate wins. If you enter into a community conversation or an all-out marketing campaign by framing a clear argument, you’ve already won half the battle. Naysayers must not only disprove your frame, but also establish another one that is more compelling. (In this election season, you can see this dynamic playing out constantly.) Being the one who frames an issue is also a powerful way to win allies, supporters and partners for your work. You look and sound as if you’ve thought the issue through – because you have. This is why I help my clients to develop comprehensive communications plans about their work and actively talk about what they’re doing – even if it’s not the least bit contentious. Proactively framing the issue amplifies your impact.

2) A strengths perspective is always best. Identifying problems or challenges is important, but pointing out weaknesses that will keep you from overcoming challenges is never helpful. Instead, always identify the strengths of the person, organization, situation you are dealing with, and try to build on those strengths. Don’t assume that systems are damaged or organizations or people are ineffective or useless. Instead, work with them to identify the strengths they do have, and how to best apply those strengths to the problem at hand. I use this approach in identifying community needs, developing new funding initiatives and even in how I approach my interpersonal relationships with my clients and family members. As a result we all get more done, and everyone feels more confident about their abilities to affect positive changes.

3) It’s the size of the pie – not the slice – that matters. Nonprofits are notorious for feeling the pressure to do more with less, and many foundations behave the same way. For some, it’s almost the equivalent of having a martyr complex. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead of bemoaning the size of your slice of pie, question why the pie itself is so small. Create a bigger pie – heck, create a smorgasbord! Don’t limit your thinking, or make assumptions, or fear success. Instead, envision what you can accomplish and use that vision to inspire others. When you adopt an abundance mentality (rather than a poverty mentality) and share it with others, you can create a new reality.

These three lessons aren’t exactly earth-shaking, but they’ve definitely shaped my life and career in positive ways. What lessons have you carried with you over the years? Share them with me and I’ll send you a free copy of my forthcoming e-book, and maybe even post them here.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly will be speaking on April 20, 2016 at the NEPA Alliance Grantmakers Forum, in Scranton PA on “5 Practices of Extraordinary Grantmakers”. This provocative session for foundation CEOs and trustees will address creating a culture of innovation, having an abundance vs. poverty mentality, streamlining operations, intentionally learning and improving, and collaborating with other funders for impact. Contact her at kris@putnam-consulting.com if you are interested in booking a speaker for your next event, or hosting a training for your board.

What your colleagues have to say:
“Kris expertly managed our $20 million grantmaking initiative to solicit, review, and select grantees to support Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). Her consulting services are of exceptional quality and I highly recommend her.”
~Juan Davila, Executive Vice President, Blue Shield of California

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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