Philanthropy Needs Strategy and Judgment, Not Tools and Tactics


Philanthropy and nonprofit leaders will continue jumping on tools and tactics, when strategy and judgment are needed. That’s the first philanthropy trend I predict for 2015, and I will share four more in the coming weeks.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean:

1 – Infographics: I’m all for finding visual and creative ways to educate people, but for the past few years people have jumped on the infographic bandwagon as if it were a solution for all information sharing. As a result, I’ve seen documents so crammed full of graphics and percentages they make my head spin. Not everything needs an infographic.

2 – Crowdfunding: I had a foundation program officer recently tell me that her foundation decided they “need to do crowdfunding” and therefore the new initiative she wanted me to help her design “needs to include crowdfunding.” Crowdfunding can be a great tool, depending upon what you are trying to accomplish. But this foundation was forcing this tool onto its grantmaking, with no appreciation for whether it was a good fit.

3 – Ice Bucket Challenge: For all its challenges, the Ice Bucket Challenge did raise extraordinary amounts of money and identified new donors for ALS. However, many nonprofit fund-raisers are now expected to come up with similar gimmicks to raise funds and visibility for their causes. For most, the success of ALS will be impossible to replicate. And, more important, nonprofits should focus on strategic fund development and not divert resources to hopping on the latest fund-raising craze.

4 – Social media: I am frequently asked by foundation staff, “Should we be on Twitter”? My answer is always the same: What are you trying to communicate, who is your audience, and is Twitter a good way to reach them? I also ask if they have any communications capacity (staff or consultants) or a communications plan. Twitter — or any form of social media — is a tool. Rather than grabbing at it, it is far better to come up with a comprehensive communications plan (with objectives, strategies, audiences, and tactics) and see where social media fits, or doesn’t, in that plan.

5 – Collective impact: A foundation CEO recently told me that she was looking for an initiative that would be a good fit for a collective impact approach. I like the collective impact model. However, you don’t search for social problems to tackle so that you can try out a new model. First determine your goals and strategies, and then figure out the best way to get there. If the collective impact approach will help, that’s great. But you don’t need to convene stakeholders, fund a backbone organization, and create shared measurement systems if you can tackle the problem by funding several organizations that are already doing great work.

When confronted with the latest philanthropic craze, take the time to understand it and see what it has to offer. But then ask yourself these four questions.

  • Why?
  • What is our goal?
  • What is our strategy?
  • What is the best way to get there?

If you thoughtfully answer these questions, you will stay focused on your objectives, incorporate new tools and ideas only when they can advance your efforts, and avoid diverting human and financial resources on approaches that take you off track.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a philanthropy expert and advisor. If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe. On Twitter? Follow me @Philanthropy411.

© 2014 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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