A few years ago I decided to publish another book. I went so far as to write “publish a book by year’s end” on a yellow post-it and stuck it next to my computer so that I’d see it every day. And then I let a bunch of other stuff get in the way. Client deadlines, speaking engagements, scheduling camp for my kids. I hadn’t made the book a priority, so nothing happened.
A year later I changed. I made the book one of my top three priorities. Then I made a list of the most important things I needed to do to publish it. I blocked out time in my calendar to work on the book every day, even if all I did was something minimal. I informed my team that this book was a priority and they all had roles to play in making it happen. This meant “publish a book” became a top agenda item on all calls with my marketing consultant. That way we wouldn’t get sidetracked by other activities. I told my accountant, and we discussed the book’s revenue and tax implications. I told my husband because somehow telling him things out loud makes them happen.
The result? I had a signed contract with one of the world’s most prominent business book publishers five weeks later.
I wouldn’t have accomplished this if I hadn’t followed the seven tips I outline below. If you are struggling to successfully and easily manage your philanthropy strategy, read on!
Tip 1: Identify Your Top Priorities
Having a new strategic plan isn’t enough. You must now identify your top priorities for achieving them. You can’t focus on 15 or 30 things at once! Pick the top two or three priorities – the most important things that must happen next. If you don’t have clarity about your top organization-wide implementation priorities, you won’t effectively manage your philanthropy strategy.
Don’t assume that because your entire team was involved in strategic planning, they will know what’s most important to do next. We all view strategy through our own lens and how it impacts our work.
Next, tell everyone what your top priorities are, be it program officers, family members, your wealth advisor, or the receptionist. Everyone has a role to play.
Tip 2: Assign Accountabilities
Now that everyone knows your top implementation priorities, you to hold people accountable for achieving them. To do this, you must assign “priority champions.” For each priority, pick a person who will be accountable for achieving it. This person does not need to do everything, but they need to make sure a specific priority is achieved, and they need to be held accountable.
Tip 3: Ask Priority Champions to Create a Punch List
Each priority champion should create a list of the top 5–10 most important things that need to happen next for their priority. For each item, add a deadline. Keep it simple. You don’t need a full-blown work plan or Gantt chart! In fact, at this stage, such a complex plan would be unrealistic and slow things down. To easily and effectively manage your philanthropy strategy you want a list of the most important activities and a deadline for each.
Tip 4: Pick a Date (soon) to Review the Progress
Pick a date and time (in the next two to three weeks) when your team and priority champions will come back to share their lists and review their progress in implementing them. This also provides an opportunity for you to troubleshoot any challenges, offer suggestions, and enlist the support of other team members whose help or expertise is needed to achieve the priority. It is critical that you pick this date BEFORE you leave the planning meeting when your top priorities and priority champions are identified. This will ensure you maintain momentum and don’t get taken off course by the many distractions that will present themselves!
Tip 5: Add and Subtract Items On Your Calendar
What gets scheduled gets done. Be sure to block out time on your calendar to implement your top priorities and achieve your goals. Even if you’re not sure how you will be spending the time, block it out anyway. That way you can be sure to have time to get things done.
But, I get it. You already have a lot on your plate. This might feel like adding more work. The reality is, there are probably a dozen or more tasks you shouldn’t be doing or that could be delegated. If you are focused on what’s most important, you should not be focused on the other 10 things that you previously thought were needed. To put it bluntly, there’s stuff you need to STOP doing so you have time to accomplish the things that are most critical to achieving your goals. This also becomes mentally freeing! Decide what you can subtract, delegate, or eliminate. By ruthlessly managing your time and calendar you will effectively manage your philanthropy strategy.
Tip 6: Plan to Pivot
One of the biggest mistakes I see philanthropists make is setting a course, putting their foot on the gas, and never taking their eyes off the road. This might seem like a logical approach to managing your philanthropy strategy, but it’s not. Because stuff happens, and some of that stuff is worth taking your foot off the gas. Sometimes, you’ve got to pull to the side of the road. And it’s best if you do that even before you know you need to. Practically speaking, you’ll need to identify regular intervals (e.g., quarterly or every two months) when you’ll check in on your plan and ask yourself some questions:
- What progress have we made in implementing our philanthropy strategy?
- What has changed internally in our organization or externally in the community or world that might warrant us to modify our strategy or leverage a new opportunity?
- Do we need to add anything or subtract anything?
- Does any part of our strategy need to drastically change?
Then, update your plan, identify top priorities, assign accountabilities, make sure everyone involved understands the changes, and keep going.
Tip 7: Maintain Momentum and Celebrate Success
The quicker you begin implementing and managing your philanthropy strategy, the more momentum you will gain. The more momentum you gain, the faster everyone gets on board and the quicker you achieve results. Think of it as a series of strategic sprints rather than a marathon. You want to start meeting milestones and celebrating accomplishments quickly.
These can be significant accomplishments (we launched our first grantmaking initiative!), wonky wins (we recoded our grants management system!), and tiny victories (we identified potential grantees!). Everyone will appreciate being appreciated.
The strategy most often fails in implementation, not formulation. But if you follow these seven tips you will stay focused and accountable, accelerate your speed of implementation, and successfully manage your philanthropy strategy.
Now that you know how to properly manage your philanthropic strategy, I want to invite you to my second Aerodynamic Giving Workshop. This workshop is specifically for CEOs of grantmaking foundations, corporate giving programs, and philanthropic family offices who want to minimize strategic friction and find their fastest path to impact. If you’re interested, be sure to RSVP today: https://putnam-consulting.com/aerodynamic-giving/