Nothing creates heart pounding ghoulish fear in the minds of a grantee like hearing from their funder: “We’re about to start strategic planning.”
A funder undergoing strategic planning can put the nail in the coffin for grantees…at least temporarily. Philanthropic strategy development seems to last forever. During this time, and often behind closed doors, the funder might “suspend grantmaking” to “evaluate priorities and approaches.” This leaves nonprofits to wonder if this dark period will lift. And when it does, will the funder still support their organization?
Strategy development is important. It helps philanthropists clarify what they want to accomplish. It should lead to change. But it doesn’t need to 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 more time they have to get used to the idea and prepare.
2. Be transparent. Why are revising your strategy? Why now? What process will you use and how long will it take? By answering these questions, at the very least you will give your grantees an indication of how long they might feel uneasy.
3. Be direct. Be honest about what grantees might expect and whether they will fit into your new funding priorities. This will help them get over their negative reactions faster and embrace the fact that change is coming. You can also help by connecting grantees to potential new partners and new sources of support that might benefit them.
4. Be quick. 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 inform your new strategy.
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 terrifying—let’s save the terror for Halloween night.
Want to learn more? In my forthcoming book, Delusional Altruism, I’ll tell you how you can formulate and implement your strategy quickly, so that you can get on with changing the world! Stay tuned for announcements to pre-order your copy!
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.
© 2019 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.
About Kris Putnam-Walkerly
I’m a global philanthropy expert, advisor and award-winning author. I help ultra-high net worth donors, celebrities, foundations and Fortune 500 companies dramatically increase the clarity, speed, impact and joy of their giving. I’m the author of Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, was named one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers” (along with U2’s Bono!), I write about philanthropy for Forbes.com, Alliance Magazine, De Dikke Blauwe and am frequently quoted in leading publications such as Bloomberg, NPR and WSJ.
Kris’ approach is refreshing! It’s the right approach. She makes sure our philanthropy makes sense—to us and our partners, grantees, and community.
Sherece West-Scantlebury, Ph.D., President and CEO, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation