Making the Case For (Your Own) Support


support buttonIn my last post, I explained the ways that many individuals in foundations adopt a poverty mentality rather than an abundance mentality when it comes to their own personal activities. Many foundation staff and leaders sell themselves short and eschew the support they need for the sake of not taking precious resources away from others. But in doing so, they often undermine their effectiveness and that of their foundation.

Support for your work is important. It allows you to maximize efficiency, gain valuable knowledge, create and leverage partners, explore creative solutions, and thereby promote and further the foundation’s mission. That support could take a number of forms, such as:

  • An administrative support staff person
  • A software upgrade
  • Travel to a conference
  • Re-organizing your time so that you can actually *think*
  • Executive coaching
  • Participation in a leadership development program
  • Streamlining your foundation’s grant approval process
  • Hiring consulting help to gather research or apply content knowledge
  • Working from home a few days each month to block out distractions

Once you’ve realized how an investment in your own work might help increase your abilities and performance, chances are you’ll need to sell the idea to someone up the ladder – either a foundation leader or your board. Here are five steps to help you make your case.

1) Document hours. Spend a week or a month documenting all the hours you are spending on administrative tasks, or playing catch-up because of poor software, or researching things that you could learn much more quickly if you had better access to expertise.

2) Quantify the expense. Based on your salary (plus approximately 25% in benefits), apply an hourly cost to those hours you’ve documented. Then, look at the comparison to the cost and the value of the solution. How do the hours you spend on administrative tasks compare to the cost of hiring an administrative staff person (who might help others as well as you)? What’s the cost of software, or a consultant, compared to the time you’ve invested in wrestling with outdated programs or trying to get up to speed on the nuances of a particular program area?

3) Highlight the opportunity cost. If you weren’t doing the tasks or dealing with the issues that are hampering your effectiveness, what would you be doing instead? What would the value of those other activities be to the foundation? These aren’t always easy to quantify, but doing so can help. So can anecdotal examples. What could you have done better in the recent past if you’d had adequate resources? How could you have accomplished more? What relationships could you have built, what grantees could you have visited, what new funding opportunities could you have explored, or how could you have better engaged your board members had you not been writing up notes from the collaborative meeting, filling out travel reimbursements, or organizing thick board dockets.

4) Explain that it’s not just about you. The challenges you experience will most certainly have negative effects on others. If you’re in a large organization, those others could be your entire team. If you’re a one-person shop, those others could well be your grantees. They could also be partners or allies. Name them and explain how your lack of access to technology, or your gaps in knowledge, or the time you spend on administrative tasks is keeping others from being effective.

5) Tie it to the foundation’s overall mission and effectiveness. After all, that’s the bottom line. The stronger the connection you can make between an investment in your own capacity and an increase in the foundation’s ability to achieve its mission, the stronger your case.

You’ve entered the philanthropic world for the right reasons, so it’s worth it to make sure you can pursue your work the right way – effectively, efficiently, creatively and knowledgeably. If that’s not a worthy case for support, then I don’t know what is.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a global philanthropy advisor, author of the new book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, and was recently named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Want more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving? Read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.

Kris will be sharing the findings of her latest report, “The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity,” at several upcoming events: a webinar for National Center for Family Philanthropy on Dec. 13, and the Colorado Association of Foundations in Denver on January 26th.

“We needed more than an environmental scan. We needed someone to give us their analytical perspective on how best to build out an initiative of largely disconnected campuses and create a unified whole. Kris and her team delivered all this so we could get the initiative up and running. I would definitely hire her again.”

~Denis Udall, Former Senior Program Officer, Walter S. Johnson Foundation

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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