Break Out of Your Bubble with a Learning Agenda


break risk - tension conceptMaintain a habit of intentional learning.

As a funder, it’s regrettably easy to stay in a “bubble” of isolation — either constrained mentally by one’s own assumptions and knowledge, or even physically by never leaving the office and venturing out into the community. If you’re in a bubble, you probably aren’t intentionally undermining your own effectiveness, but you are deluding yourself that you’re achieving the impact you’d like to see. For effective grantmaking to really happen, you need to break out of the bubble, and make an effort to deeply understand and connect with the communities you serve.

The bubble-breaking process starts with a commitment to truly becoming a learning organization. Many funders claim they want to learn, but few take the time to define what that means and commit to an intentional learning agenda. Staff and board members may have made individual strides, but have no means or impetus to formally share their learning with others. To become intentional learners, you must:

  • Commit to learning as a part of your goals and day-to-day duties.
  • Document and share what you learn.
  • Discuss what you learn with your entire team.
  • Use what you’ve learned to make decisions.
  • Apply what you’ve learned to your ongoing work.

In addition, it pays to remember that learning should always be a two-way street. You can’t expect others to open up and be honest with you if you aren’t also forthcoming and open in sharing with them. This doesn’t mean you need to air dirty laundry, but it does mean you should be clear that you don’t have all the answers, be honest about where you have questions, and be open to where you’d like to improve your own knowledge or capacity.

Once you break out beyond your bubble, it’s almost impossible to go back. But that’s OK, because you won’t want to. You’ll want to incorporate community engagement and continuous learning into your everyday, ongoing work. Engaging with your community in intentional learning is incredibly habit forming, and fortunately it’s a habit you can easily maintain.

Explore additional insight into why breaking out of a funder “bubble” is so important and how funders can engage more deeply with their communities in my free white paper, Get Out of Your Bubble and Into Your Community.

Additional Reading: 

The Danger of Treadmill Verbs

The Delusional Philanthropist

Five Things Jeff Bezos Needs To Know Before Giving Away Billions

© 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 almost 20 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.

“Improving lives through philanthropy is a complex business, but the Putnam team provided us with a clear, compelling story of our work with local partners and the real-world impact that’s had the communities we serve. These are stories we’ll use and share with peers and grantee partners for years to come.” 

Paul DiLorenzo, Senior Director, Casey Family Programs


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