How to Really Frighten Your Grantees!


Spine-chilling fear can be invoked in the hearts and minds of grantees when they hear their funder say, “We need to start our strategic planning.”


Strategy development is important. It helps philanthropists clarify what they want to accomplish and offers a roadmap. It should lead to change. And strategies themselves should change rapidly, as conditions change.

But strategic planning shouldn’t leave grantees screaming at their desk chairs!

You don’t want to be a frightful funder. The next time you announce “it’s time for strategic planning” don’t forget these tips to calm your grantees nerves:

1. Communicate early and often. “Ghosting” your grantees while you go through the strategic planning process only creates more uncertainty. The earlier you can let your grantees know that you plan to refresh your strategy, the approach you are taking, and what to expect, the more time they have to get used to the idea and prepare.

2. Engage your grantees. Strategic planning is an opportunity to learn from and involve grantees and key stakeholders.  Instead of sequestering trustees in a barren boardroom to create your plan, consider inclusive approaches that engage diverse perspectives. This ensures your strategy centers community needs and grantee voices and involves those impacted by your grantmaking in your decision-making.

One of our foundation clients recently did this by inviting eight grantees to their strategic planning kick-off session and also to a half day planning session to gain their input into their refreshed strategic direction. This allowed them to “bake in” grantees’ needs and perspectives into their new strategic plan.

3. Be nimble. Don’t allow your strategic framework to fester. The faster you can formulate your new strategy, the better for everyone. If you feel the need to explore aspects of your work more deeply over a longer period of time, consider doing so while the wheels are still rolling. Then, use the lessons and observations you’re gathering in real time to refresh your strategy.

4. Be kind. As beastly as it sounds, the reality is some grantee partners may no longer fit into your new strategic priorities. Don’t abandon them to the grantee graveyard! You have many tools at your disposal to support and advance their work even as they transition out of your funding portfolio. For example, you can offer an additional year of funding, technical assistance, and introductions to other funders.

When I helped the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation focus its funding priorities, we offered general operating support “bridge grants” to grantees that no longer fit the funding criteria, to help them transition to new sources of funding. Funds could be used however they chose, including bolstering their fund development capacity.

If you prepare your grantees for your strategic planning process and continue to communicate with them throughout the process, your grantees will be less frightened of the changes. In fact, they will more likely accept and endorse your new plan openly.

Strategic planning doesn’t have to be so scary—let’s save the fright for Halloween night.

Still nervous? Call me! As your trusted advisor I can give you the guidance you need to get your strategy off the ground and keep everyone working together along the way. Schedule a call with me and we’ll ease your fear of strategic planning for good.


© 2021 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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