Are You Selling Yourself Short?


Anxious business woman phone

When you think about your work in philanthropy, are you selling yourself short? If so, you could be shortchanging your foundation’s effectiveness – and therefore its mission – as well.

Some of the most sincere people I know in philanthropy bring a very astute sense of servant leadership to their work. They always put the needs of others first and keep themselves humbly out of the spotlight. It’s an admirable mindset, but it also can be a symptom of approaching philanthropy from a poverty mentality rather than one of abundance.

As I’ve written before, foundations with a poverty mentality believe that investing in their own infrastructure or capacity somehow robs those they serve. Foundations with an abundance mentality realize that by investing in their own capacity, they actually can serve others better. This is true for philanthropic organizations, and also true for the individuals who work in them.

Let me give you some examples:

  • A CEO of a small foundation operates as a one-woman shop, assuming all of the duties not only of a program officer and CFO, but also as an administrative assistant and grants manager. As a result, she spends nearly three-quarters of her time doing administrative tasks. That’s time not spent building relationships in community, learning more about needs, networking with potential partners or co-investors. Instead, she assumes multiple roles because hiring an administrative staff person seems like an extravagance. She’s selling herself short.
  • A program officer maintains a full portfolio of grants and it’s more than a full-time job. When the foundation decides to embrace a new initiative, he agrees to lead it in addition to his already full workload. Perhaps he feels a strong sense of ownership or wants to further prove his worth. Perhaps he feels it’s simply expected that he shoulder more. Either way, he’s now saddled with considerably more work and no additional hours in the day, assistance, or thought about how to streamline his work. He’s embraced a new opportunity, but he’s sold himself short.
  • A senior program officer manages a staff of three, which takes a considerable amount of time in addition to her other responsibilities. She also travels a great deal, but finds it very difficult to tap into the foundation’s network remotely because of outdated software. She’s reluctant to change the situation, because everyone else on her staff is comfortable with the software and she doesn’t really mind spending post-travel weekends in the office, catching up on reports. She’s completely sacrificed her own efficiency – and that of her team – in an effort to avoid the discomfort that can come with change. She’s selling herself short.

When examining your own situation, be honest. Promoting the fact that you can further achieve mission with an assistant, or new technology, or an improved process is very different than asking for a company car. But if you can easily catalog the ways in which you could be more efficient and effective if you only had that missing support, then it’s worth it to invest. Don’t sell yourself short on behalf of your foundation. Instead, maximize your potential on behalf of those you serve.

In my next post, I’ll share ways to help you make the case for your own support to your board or senior staff.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor, author of the new book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, and was recently named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers.  Want more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving? Read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.

Kris will be sharing the findings of her latest report, “The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity,” at several upcoming events: Fund Our Economic Future on Dec. 8 in Cleveland, OH; a webinar for National Center for Family Philanthropy on Dec. 13; and the Colorado Association of Foundations in Denver on January 26th.

“Our evaluation work with Putnam was essential to supporting one of the most significant grantmaking endeavors our foundation has ever had. Kris helped our board see the importance of looking beyond the grant award itself, and we are looking forward to doing more evaluations like this as our organization matures.”

~Alison Belfrage, Executive Director, Ohio State Bar Foundation

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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