5 Ridiculous Things Said About Philanthropy


Little astonished girl in funny big spectaclesOver the years, I’ve heard a lot of things said about philanthropy. Many were spot on. Some were downright brilliant. A few were head scratchers. And then there are the ones that are so ridiculous they almost make you want to throw your hands up and walk away. Some of the statements below came from folks who were relatively new to the field, so perhaps they are somewhat excusable. Others, sadly, were from the lips of veterans who should know better. In any case, comments like the ones that follow make an excellent case for investing in ongoing professional development for our field, especially as more and more players come into it.

#1: “Giving away money makes me feel like a kid in a candy store!”

How wonderful for you! Getting that “donor’s high” is great, but don’t ever lose sight of the fact that you’re not shopping here, buddy. You’re making investments that are affecting people’s lives. It’s not a spree, it’s a long-term, serious business.

#2: “We can’t include them. They might steal our ideas.”

This comment from a foundation board member is a real head-smacker. Any one with any concept of needs versus charitable assets in our country realizes that no single foundation can solve any problem on its own. There are no proprietary ideas in the work of making the world better, and philanthropy is not a competitive sport. Get over yourself.

#3: “Let’s make it a surprise.”

This suggestion came from a board member at a relatively new foundation, who proposed that surprise site visits would provide a true and honest picture of how grantseekers really functioned. Setting aside the obvious facts that no one likes surprises and an unscheduled funder site visit could prove to be horribly disruptive to those delivering or receiving a nonprofit’s services, this donor misses the point that scheduled site visits allow a nonprofit to gather important data and address specific questions that are necessary for the foundation’s own grantmaking processes.

#4: “They need to work for it.”

This observation accompanied a suggestion that grant proposals should only be accepted on paper, not online. I’m sure I don’t need to comment further. If anyone knows of a nonprofit that needs to jump through more hoops to receive funding, please speak up.

#5: “Let’s try something new.”

Let me be clear: I am not against innovation or trying new things, but this comment was delivered on a whim, and it ground an entire, established grantmaking strategy to a halt. Want to try something different? Explore the need, involve your stakeholders, create a clear plan and strategy – have a reason for goodness sake, other than the fact that you’re bored because change is taking too long.

I am sure there are many other comments out there that have left you questioning the sanity of the speaker, or your own ability to stay true to the mark despite hearing them. But sharing them always makes me feel better. Share your favorite dumb comment with me, and I’ll send you a free copy of my forthcoming book. (Nothing but wisdom in there, I promise!)

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a philanthropy expert and author of the forthcoming book, Confident Giving. To learn more about her consulting and advising services for grantmakers, visit her website or read a case study.


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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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