Five Ways Philanthropists Can Turn Adversity into Opportunity

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Nobody ever chooses the hard road, but it has a way of finding us. And when it does, sometimes the only choice we have is in how we respond. Interestingly, we never know exactly what we’re capable of until we’re tested. So, especially for philanthropists and other change-makers, during this new world of head-spinning challenges, this is a good time to rise to the occasion and stretch to a new level of potential.

As a long-time philanthropy advisor, I help my clients recognize when their giving approach is a form of “Delusional Altruism.” Then, together, we work to change defeating patterns and dramatically increase their effectiveness. At a time of extreme uncertainty and challenges here are five focus areas that can dramatically improve your effectiveness today, and into the future:

1. Clarify your strategy. Your mission should remain the same (it’s the reason your philanthropy exists) but your strategy can adjust year to year. If you don’t have a strategy, you can rapidly create one. It’s a matter of identifying your desired future state by asking yourself questions like: In the next 12 months, what impact do we want to have? What kind of philanthropy do we want to be? What do we want to look like, sound like, feel like, smell like a year from now? Then look at where you are today, and identify the top three to four critical strategic factors that will help you achieve your desired future. Once you have a strategy, make sure everyone on your team is aware of it, focused on it, and implementing it.

2. Prioritize. Pick top priorities for the next four months. Focus everyone’s efforts on what’s most important. And make sure they block time in their calendar to work on them. This is what I describe in my new book, Delusional Altruism, “doing what it takes.” It requires identifying the most immediate priorities at the top of the list for your entire organization. One of the biggest pitfalls to doing this well is when organizations fail to stop doing old priorities. If it’s not that important, you shouldn’t be doing it anyway. If it is important in the long run, you can keep it moving by delegating it to someone who can work on it in the background, while you are focused on your top priorities. For example, an intern can conduct research, or a consultant can help you design a new funding initiative.

3. Expand your capacity. Working remotely is increasingly cited as one of the most coveted work benefits. It’s also proving to be a necessity during the current crisis. If this is a challenge for your organization, lean into it. Put people at the center and keep your forward momentum. If you’ve been hesitant to take video calls, now is the time to try it out! This will enable you to continue to be as high touch as you need to be. Ask the most technology savvy person in your office to help lead the effort and train people to use it. Practice with each other or with colleagues who won’t care if you aren’t looking “professional” today.

4. Stay the course. While it’s always important to respond to a crisis by offering an emergency grant, that doesn’t mean you need to switch your entire grantmaking strategy to infectious disease prevention. If your grantmaking focus is to ensure high-quality Pre-K for every child in your community, that should continue to be your priority. You can take the time to talk to your partners and grantees to find out how the crisis is impacting them and offer additional or different ways of supporting them. But that’s an adjustment, not a wholesale switcheroo. Offering this kind of support while at the same time showing consistency in word and deed can go a long way toward alleviating the rising anxiety levels of grantees on the ground.

5. Become the philanthropist you want to be. In 2017, while I was advising the Community Foundation Sonoma County on revising its business model, wildfires ravaged their community. The foundation, and its visionary CEO Beth Brown, quickly adapted how they gave and how they operated. First, they established a fund specifically designed to address the community’s mid- to long-term recovery needs. When they recognized inequities in the recovery process, they added an equity lens to all their disaster recovery grantmaking. Before the business model was complete, they’d already stepped into their new community leadership role!

Here’s what Brown had to say about the experience: “Our response to the wildfires showed us who we are in a crisis, as well as a glimpse of the type of foundation we can become. We decided to incorporate this experience—of being bigger and bolder in our fundraising, grantmaking, and community leadership—into our business model rather than consider it a one-time experience.” You can do that too. Use today’s challenges to become more strategic, focused, efficient, consistent and closer to the aspirational version of yourself you dream about.

This article was originally written for and published by CEOWORLD Magazine.

© 2020 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

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Sentient Strategy®: If this crisis had taught us anything, it’s the futility of spending one year to create a three-year strategic plan. Sentient Strategy is a revolutionary approach to formulate strategy quickly, to be used immediately for as long as conditions warrant, and then to make changes rapidly as conditions change. It builds a flexible, adaptive strategic approach that creates a roadmap for change and holds people accountable for quick implementation. You’ll achieve faster results, and have a flexible template for adjusting course regularly. Sentient Strategy can be developed in person or remotely within a week. Contact me at kris@putnam-consulting.com if you’d like to learn more!

90-Day Coaching: I’ll help you respond, stay focused, and lead through this crisis 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. Together we can discuss any aspect of your work, such as managing your team and board remotely, identifying and implementing top priorities, developing new approaches and partnerships, maintaining focus, not feeling overwhelmed, and preparing for the recovery. I have limited slots, so if you are interested, write me at kris@putnam-consulting.com to learn more and sign up.

VIP Strategy & Coaching Day: For decades, I’ve worked hand-in-hand with global philanthropists, celebrity activists, and wealth advisors who utilize my philanthropic advisor services. Now, you can enjoy a one-on-one private VIP Strategy & Coaching Dayto help improve the impact of your giving. This custom-designed VIP Strategy and Coaching Day can be modified to fit your needs. We can schedule the training over a multi-day period, broken out into 2 to 3 hour sessions so that we don’t interfere with other events on your calendar. My virtual coaching day is run via Zoom, and there are breaks scheduled into the day. Email me at kris@putnam-consulting.com to learn more.

About Kris Putnam-Walkerly

I’m a global philanthropy expert, advisor and award-winning author. I’ve helped hundreds of ultra-high net worth donors, celebrities, foundations, Fortune 500 companies and wealth advisors strategically influence and allocate over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts. I was named one of “America’s Top 20 Philanthropy Speakers” three years in a row, I write about philanthropy for Forbes.com, CEO World, Alliance Magazine, De Dikke Blauwe and am frequently quoted in leading publications such as Bloomberg, NPR and WSJ.

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