How Adaptable Are You?


aaeaaqaaaaaaaariaaaajge3mznkzgu0lwu4yzctnguyni1hm2qwltblmwjmyzi1yjy2mqEveryone relies on standard ways of doing things. From getting kids out the door to school or making the next big grant, we all need processes and systems that help us remember what’s next, what’s to be expected, and how to move forward. But sometimes things change, and we need to be able to change as well to accommodate a new short-term situation or a new long-term reality.

Here’s a personal example.

A few weeks ago I went to the hair salon for my standard cut and color (not that I’m going gray or anything). My tight schedule meant I couldn’t see my regular stylist. It was the morning of an international flight and my primary goal was speed and a hairstyle that would look presentable the next day despite an overnight flight. I wanted to arrive looking decent. I also didn’t want to miss my flight.

I told this to the stylist, and asked her if she could rush through the blow drying, put in some tight curls and send me off quickly.

She frowned, gave my head a once over and told me it would take 25 minutes to blow my hair dry. Despite my obvious dismay, she then proceeded to use her standard approach, systematically carving out small sections of hair, brushing and smoothing each section, then drying each delicately and thoroughly. Twenty-five minutes later I dashed out the door in a panic to make it to the airport on time.

Granted, my hair looked sleek and fabulous – a heck of a lot better than it ever looks after I dry it. But my goal was not to be fabulous. It was to be presentable in a speedy fashion. She was not capable, nor interested, in changing her methods to respond to the circumstances I presented. She thought her process was best, and wasn’t willing to adapt on the fly.

Funders also can assume their processes are best and fail to adapt quickly to needs presented by their grantees or communities. Instead, we should be ready to recognize and adapt when changes are warranted. Ask yourself:

  • How can you quickly get money out the door to help a grantee respond to a crisis situation, rather than requiring them to fill out a full proposal and wait for the next quarterly board meeting to approve a grant? Some foundations keep discretionary grant budgets or have expedited approval processes just for this purpose.
  • Are you looking under your own hood to identify what is not working, and quickly shedding it so that you can double down your resources on what’s most impactful?
  • Can you continuously scan your community to identify emerging trends, and then adapt your grantmaking strategies accordingly? (FYI, I’ll be giving talks on this at upcoming conferences for Exponent Philanthropy and the Iowa Council on Foundations).

Your immediate answer to these questions may be, “I’m not sure…” But that doesn’t mean you don’t have it in you to be more adaptive. Imagine a situation that would truly light a fire of adaptability under you. (For many funders, President Trump’s election caused a rapid adaptation into a new world of funding policy advocacy and organizing.) What would you need to do to adapt to that reality? And what can you do now to bring that adaptability into your current work?

© 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.


Trusted Philanthropic Advisor

Kris Putnam-Walkerly serves as a trusted advisor to foundation leaders and high-wealth donors across the globe. As an advisor, Kris transfers learning to leaders and their teams so they have the ability to build their own internal capacity to be successful in their work. Kris’s clients report immediate and dramatic improvement in both personal performance and philanthropic impact.

Whether you are the CEO of a larger foundation, the sole staff member charged with decision-making, or a high-net worth donor, the questions Kris can address cover a broad spectrum of professional and personal issues. As an advising client, you’ll have unlimited access to Kris during regular business hours by phone, Skype, email and, when desired, face to face. With over 18 years of experience working with top global philanthropies, Kris understands how to build an impactful organization that integrates your philanthropic passions and the challenges that must be overcome to get there.

Learn more about this and other services offered or contact Kris today to begin a trusted advisor relationship.

Upcoming Speaking Events

Looking for a provocative yet practical speaker at your next event? Kris Putnam-Walkerly was named one of “ America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers” in 2016 and 2017. Learn more or book Kris today for your next conference or event.

September 7, 2017 – Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers 

Racial Equity & Philanthropy: Achieving Equity…How Exactly?

September 14, 2017 – Iowa Council of Foundations Connect Conference (Newton, IA)

Out of Your Bubble and Into Your Community (Keynote)

September 14, 2017 – Iowa Council of Foundations Connect Conference (Newton, IA) 

Avoiding “Delusional Altruism”: How to Create a Legacy of Impact, Respect, and Value

September 19, 2017 – National Center for Family Philanthropy webinar 

Part three of a three-part webinar series on how family foundations are embracing equity

September 27, 2017 – Philanthropy West Virginia Annual Conference 

Avoiding “Delusional Altruism”: How to Create a Legacy of Impact, Respect, and Value

October 16, 2017 – CONNECT Conference, Exponent Philanthropy, Denver 

Out of Your Bubble and Into Your Community

October 19, 2017 – National Forum on Family Philanthropy 

Achieving Equity…How Exactly? 

October 19, 2017 – National Forum on Family Philanthropy 

Does Your Foundation Have a Poverty or Abundance Mentality?

November 14, 2017 – Southeastern Council on Foundations’ Annual Conference, Trustees-Only Luncheon, Orlando, FL 

How Will Trustees Lead Into the Future?

Book Kris for your next conference or event!

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.

Recent Posts

Follow Kris

Download a Sample Chapter of Delusional Altruism Now!

Just provide us with your name and email and receive this sample.

Download the Article Now!

Just provide us with your name and email and receive this article.