6 Ways Philanthropists May Feel Overwhelmed
A serious, but largely overlooked, problem in philanthropy is feeling overwhelmed. You know what I’m talking about. You might have woken up this morning feeling overwhelmed by the day ahead of you. You may feel overwhelmed by learning to use new technology, while suddenly working from home and homeschooling your children. Or you might be overwhelmed because you don’t have a clear strategy, so you and your team aren’t sure how to focus your efforts when everything seems to have changed overnight.
What is overwhelm? According to wellness writer Michelle Rees, “Overwhelm happens when the sheer volume of thoughts, feelings, tasks and stimuli in our daily environment shifts our brain and nervous system into a reactive, stressed state.” The result? Easy things become hard and hard things become impossible.
Toss in the global COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed!
In my experience, philanthropists experience six distinct types of overwhelm. As you read the list, jot down how many of these you’ve experienced in the past year.
1. Are you overwhelmed by the world’s problems? The world holds more than 7.5 billion of us. Sometimes it feels as though we face unlimited challenges. Climate change, income, inequality, influenza, pandemics, food insecurity, war . . . just to name a few! Many funders feel overwhelmed by the sheer size and depth of such problems. And when these problems are directly impacting you, your family, your philanthropy and your grantees, it’s all the more challenging.
2. Are you overwhelmed finding a cause to support? Some people come to this work with a clear passion and focus. Their child had brain cancer and they want to prevent the disease from striking other families. For the rest of us, however, it can be overwhelming to determine which issue to tackle. We care about so many needs: domestic violence or mental health? Climate change or inequality? Is it better to double down on one issue or spread our contributions across a wide range of causes? There are no right or wrong answers, but the choices can daunt us. Toss in trying to involve the wildly different interests of your adult children or the predilections of your company’s CEO, and you start to feel like a deer in the headlights.
3. Are you overwhelmed by choices? Once you know which causes you want to support, you still need to decide how to support them. There are an estimated 10 million nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide. That’s a lot of potential grantees to choose among! And your choices are not only numerous but often they are big: Determining whether to let go of employees who don’t fit your new strategy. Identifying the most effective approach to increasing access to drinking water without inadvertently harming people. It’s common to feel overwhelmed by guilt or anxiety (or both) in the face of such decisions.
4. Are you overwhelmed by taking action? You’ve set goals and developed a plan. It’s smooth sailing from here to make it all happen, right? Wrong. At this stage, many funders are sitting on a plan with five goals, ten objectives, and four cross-cutting themes. Strategies are getting mixed up with tactics, everything feels like a priority, and no one knows what they are supposed to do next. They are overwhelmed. Their response? To “busy” themselves in meetings, calls, and emails that accomplish little.
5. Are you overwhelmed by change? We all think change is great . . . until it happens to us. You might be managing wealth you’ve recently inherited, recovering from the surprise outcome of an election, or taking on your first CEO role. Of course, all of us are experiencing drastic changes to our organizations, grantees, families, financial situations, communities, and possibly our health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When we change, we are forced to let go of habits we are comfortable with. We step into the unknown, and often into areas we’ve tried to avoid. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disoriented by change, and unsure how to respond.
6. Are you overwhelmed by lack of time? This one’s a doozy. Most people think they don’t have time. You are probably saying to yourself, “OK, Kris, I get all this, but I have no time to deal with it. My inbox is overflowing. I’m figuring out how to loosen our funding restrictions to provide rapid response grants, and I’m trying to manage my team remotely.” I understand. When I started writing my new book, Delusional Altruism, I wondered how I would add “write two hours a day” into my calendar. But the belief that we have no time is the easiest culprit to resolve – especially now that your calendar has been wiped clean of travel, conferences and meetings for the next three months! You have more control over your time than you realize, especially if you stop mindlessly giving it away to people and issues that are not your top priorities. Meetings don’t need to last an hour, strategic planning need not take a year, and you don’t need to embark on a multi-city learning tour to get feedback. Compare your calendar against your top priorities. You’ll be stunned to realize how little of your time is allocated to what’s most important.
How many types of overwhelm did you experience in the past year? In the past month?
As odd as it seems, overwhelm often comes more from our minds than from the physical world. We actually contribute to feeling overwhelmed by wearing it like a badge of honor (and bragging about how busy we are), setting unrealistic expectations, lacking a strategy (or a plan to execute our strategy), and not investing in technology or advisors who can help us.
I wrote Delusional Altruismafter noticing so many philanthropists were genuinely trying to make a difference and change the world, but they were getting in their own way – often without realizing it. Feeling overwhelmed is “delusional” because we often don’t recognize the damage it’s causing us and our philanthropy. And we don’t realize how much control we have to reduce overwhelm. Don’t let feeling overwhelmed hold you back from changing the world. We need talented philanthropists just like you to step up, take risks, and make a difference. The world needs you. Your community needs you. Let’s go!
I hope you enjoyed this slightly modified excerpt from my new book, Delusional Altruism. I wanted to share this to celebrate the release of my book tomorrow!
Join me LIVE today for a FREE webinar hosted by Giving Compass where I will be sharing some insight into my new book, Delusional Altruism, and I’ll be answering YOUR questions! Register at: https://givingcompass.org/webinar-kris-putnam-walkerly/
© 2020 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.
About Kris Putnam-Walkerly
I’m a global philanthropy expert, advisor and award-winning author. I help ultra-high net worth donors, celebrities, foundations and Fortune 500 companies dramatically increase the clarity, speed, impact and joy of their giving. I’m the author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform GivingandConfident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, was named one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers”, I write about philanthropy for Forbes.com, Alliance Magazine, De Dikke Blauwe and am frequently quoted in leading publications such as Bloomberg, NPRand WSJ.
Whether you are just getting started in philanthropy, want to refresh your giving strategy, or need to catapult yourself to your desired future, I can help. Let’s talk! Call me at +1-800-598-2102 x1, email me at email@example.com or schedule a call.
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Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change and What They Can Do To Transform Givingis an insider’s guide to creating truly transformational change. It reminds us that how we give is as important as the amount we give. In the book I reveal the blind spots that can derail our giving objectives and share practical steps on what to do to get giving on track. You will learn:
- How to avoid the biggest mistakes funders make.
- How giving-related questions spur learning and fuel innovation.
- Why the urge to save money is gutting your giving program’s impact.
- How philanthropists can increase innovation and agility.
- How to give in ways that create lasting, sustainable change.
- How to follow strategies that make philanthropy unstoppable.
- How wealth advisors and estate planners can increase their clients’ philanthropic impact.
I’ll share best practices and help you with both professional and work-life balance issues with a weekly call and unrestricted email access. This is not a regular offering of mine, it’s intended to help you not just navigate your philanthropy through the storm but to find sunny skies, and to be part of your support system. I have limited slots, so if you are interested write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up!
“Kris “gets” philanthropy in a way that few consultants can match. I find her voice and her ideas refreshing, inspiring and always a bright spot of common sense and sanity in a sometimes crazy field.”
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