Too Much of a Good Thing


Have you ever looked around on Christmas morning after the gift-opening frenzy is over and realized that perhaps you went a little overboard? It’s a feeling I get every year about this time, and one you think I’d have learned to anticipate by now. What begins as a surety that I’ve not bought enough presents for my five kids ends up with the realization that instead, I bought way too many and there’s now chaos on my living room floor.

Too much of a good thing may be a nice problem to have, but it can still be a problem – especially if you’re the one left to manage the excess once it’s strewn about or realize that perhaps funds could have been better spent elsewhere. I believe this rule applies to foundation operations just as much as it does my own Christmas habits.

Here are just a few examples (do any ring true for you?):

  • Too long and involved a process for strategic planning.  In the name of being thorough, we may create needless hoops and protracted planning schedules, and compel our teams to spend weeks of their time questioning an obvious strategic direction.
  • Too many bids for an RFP. We ask for multiple bidders in the name of transparency, but what if we simply hired the vendors or consultants we thought would work best based on our experience and were transparent about our reasons for hiring them?
  • Too big a committee. In order to be inclusive, we reach out to everyone and anyone we can think of to be part of a committee – but wouldn’t we be better served by a smaller group with the skills, talents or connections to further the agenda? There are other ways to be inclusive.
  • Too ambitious in choosing goals. When starting a new initiative, it’s easy to want to target the largest impact possible, but go too big and we set ourselves up for failure. Better to start simple and then expand.
  • Too many cooks in the kitchen. We often pull too many consultants or advisors in on a large initiative, or, conversely, use different consultants for each initiative when one or two could provide continuity to all.  What if we thought more strategically about how we built our teams?

I’m sure you get the idea. What we do in the name of good intentions, sharing, and transparency can end up going overboard and detracting from other efforts that may deliver more benefit. What if we stepped outside of the frenzy of our current situation and evaluated it with an eye toward what our actions might produce once the hubbub had died down?

Can you think of an example where too much of a good thing became burdensome for your foundation? Share it, and I’ll send you a free copy of my upcoming book. As for me, I’ll make a New Year’s resolution now to stop and think more carefully next Christmas!
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a philanthropy expert and author of the forthcoming book, Confident Giving. Learn more about her consulting and advising services for grantmakers, visit her website or read a case study.

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— Lisa Bottoms, Program Director, Cleveland Foundation

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