Does Your Grantmaking Initiative Take Initiative?


Take The Initiative ConceptYou’re designing a new philanthropic initiative and you expect results quickly. Which adjectives would you rather described your team?

Option 1: Get up and go attitude, energetic, empowered, speedy, driven, inventive, and resourceful

Option 2: Unsure, unclear, lethargic, slow, idle, and resistant

If you have a pulse, I am guessing you chose Option 1. In my experience however, too many new philanthropic efforts crawl out of the gate because the participants and leaders are operating at Option 2. They don’t take initiative. But it’s relatively simple to set and elevate expectations for initiative-taking.

In my consulting practice my team uses the “Five Degrees of Initiative” originally proposed in a Harvard Business Review Classic article “Who’s Got the Monkey” by William Oncken and Donald Wass.

The Five Levels are:

  1. Waiting to be told what to do.

  2. Asking what to do.

  3. Making a recommendation, getting approval, and then taking the recommended action.

  4. Taking action, but advising others at once.

  5. Acting on your own, then routinely reporting to others.

I have found it is in my clients’ best interest for my team to be working at Levels 4 and 5 as much as possible, and sometimes at Level 3. We also know that there are many occasions when this is not possible and that moving down to Level 3 or even Level 2 is required. But it is rarely acceptable to be at Level 1.

Foundation leaders can use this simple list to talk about the expectations of initiative participants, and set the bar at Levels 4 and 5 as much as possible. You can also give examples of what constitutes a Level 4 decision, and when you should stick to Level 2. The more initiative your team feels empowered to take, the faster you will achieve results. Guaranteed.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a philanthropy expert and advisor. If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe. On Twitter? Follow me @Philanthropy411.

© 2014 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

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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