Isn’t This Supposed to be Fun? 5 Ways to Put the Joy Back in Philanthropy


JoyWe all know the feeling. When that sense of excitement and possibility on the drive to work is replaced by stress, dread or boredom. What’s a grantmaker to do?

It’s natural to face burnout and frustration from time to time. Processes and routines get old. Results are less than hoped for. Grantees approach you with an air of resigned diligence – or worse, apathy. You watch them jump through hoops your foundation has created and wonder what compels them to soldier on. When that happens, it’s easy to lose the big picture and remember why what you do matters – and what drew you to philanthropy in the first place.

Fortunately, there are ways to put the joy back into grantmaking. All it takes is a willingness to step outside your office, break with routine, and open yourself up to a shift in perspective. Yes, vacations are great, but nothing will be different when you return. I’m thinking of something more intentional than a relaxing getaway.

Here are five things you could do in the next week or two to reset yourself and rekindle the joy of philanthropy.

  1. Get outside. Take a mini-road trip to a neighborhood you’ve never visited. Go to a museum, a park ,or a even a movie in the middle of the day (like Don Draper in Mad Men). The point is to get out of the normal work confines and see the landscape differently. What do others in your community see that you normally don’t? How do they interact with the surroundings in ways that are different from yours?
  1. Buck the bureaucracy. Take a look at your grantmaking process from the perspective of a grantee. What requests are unnecessarily burdensome? What questions aren’t essential? What could you do to make applying for a grant from your foundation more engaging, exciting – or even fun? What if you could only ask grantees three questions? What would they be?
  1. Talk to your hero. Who is it that inspires you most in your work or your life? I’m not talking about a celebrity or a historical figure, but a “real-life” person. Take a risk and reach out to that person. Ask them to join you for tea, or a walk, or dinner, so that you can learn about their perspectives on giving, philanthropy, the human condition, life – whatever seems most relevant. Even if you can’t make contact with that person, make a list of questions you’d want to ask.
  1. Take notes. Keep a small journal of ideas, observations, conversations, sights, sounds or other things you come across that get your attention. They don’t need to be related or make sense or be particularly detailed – just capture them as they happen. Then, go back and look through your pages. What themes emerge?
  1. Ask yourself, “If I could do my philanthropic work all over again, what would I do differently?” That’s a question I often advise my clients to ask of others when learning about new initiatives or strategies, but it’s a question we rarely turn on ourselves. Would you have chosen a different focus? Chosen a different role? Pursued a philanthropic strategy other than grantmaking?

Chances are, if you do one or all of these five things, something will create a new spark. You’ll ignite a new vision or rekindle an old one. Either way, you can move forward with new energy and purpose, and feel your sense of boredom or dread replaced by one of joy.


P.S. Want one more way to help shift your perspective and rekindle the joy? Read my new book, Confident Giving, now available on Amazon!


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and was recently named one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers.” Her clients include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, among dozens of others.  Learn more at

“Creating a theory of change is challenging work, but Kris helped us envision and plan where we want to go and did so in a way that incorporates diverse perspectives and complex ideals. Now we are much more targeted and clear about what we’re working to accomplish and how we’ll get here.”  — Sue Krey, President,  Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland


© 2016 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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