Can You Improve Just a Smidgen?


coffee-424764_1920Hint: The answer is yes.

By now you probably know two things about me: I travel frequently, and I’m addicted to good coffee – especially first thing in the morning. So you can understand my delight to find a high-quality coffee service right on my hotel floor this morning!

This was no in-room filter pack situation. To me, that’s like offering stale saltines to an artisan baker. I pass that up unless I’m completely desperate. But I also am reluctant to make myself presentable first thing upon waking just to go down multiple floors to a hotel lobby or a Starbuck’s to get the good stuff. On most trips, I actually bring a single-cup coffee maker with me on my travels just to avoid this situation.

But this time, there was good coffee within steps of my hotel room door on my floor. The chances of being seen with sleep-tousled hair and no lipstick were minimal and easily worth the reward. My astute Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto, CA understood this. They made a very small improvement that required little effort on their part (it’s the exact same coffee display they have in the lobby) that made a huge difference in my experience. They improved by a smidgen, and it was great!

Certainly, we as grantmakers can improve by a smidgen!

Take one thing you do well, that people appreciate, and brainstorm a few simple ways to make it better. For example, can you:

  • Reduce a 4-page grant application down to three?
  • Shrink a three-week grant approval process to two?
  • Return phone calls and emails in 24 hours instead of 48?
  • Make a one-step login for grantees on your website instead of three?
  • Provide free parking for your community meeting space?

If you provide capacity building for grantees, or fund a particular group of grantees as part of an initiative, could you also add a convening each year where they can share and learn from one another, or where other funders can gather to share their own experiences? I’ve worked with several foundations that do this with rave reviews.

If your staff is particularly gifted in one area, like communications, could you provide a free communications training for all your grantees? This kind of expertise sharing also can extend to technology, leadership development, etc. It also may be something valuable for your peers.

In addition to making grants, could you also leverage your contacts and connections to make meaningful introductions for your grantees so that they can build their networks as well?

If you’ve conducted enlightening research to inform your own staff and board, could you also release a public version of that research to inform not only your own grantees, but the entire field? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation did this with equity research my firm conducted last year, and that report is still widely circulated.

When it comes right down to it, it doesn’t really take that much to go the extra mile, but those extra steps can have a big impact on the people who matter most to your work. At your next staff or board meeting, ask, “What can we do to improve just a smidgen?” – then take a few small steps to improve the experience of others. I guarantee you’ll hear about the value you’ve added by doing so.

© 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 over 18 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.


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October 19, 2017 – National Forum on Family Philanthropy

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