In my 25 years of experience advising philanthropic leaders, I’ve noticed a common problem — strategic drag.
Many foundations start with the best intentions and ample resources, yet they fail to achieve the impact they desire because forces are slowing them down.
As a philanthropy advisor and coach, my mission is to help foundations minimize this drag so they can operate with greater clarity, efficiency, and joy. I want to help them become more aerodynamic in their philanthropic strategy and giving.
What exactly causes drag in philanthropy?
Here are some of the most common culprits I’ve observed:
Your Response to Unexpected Events.
When the political, economic, or social landscape suddenly shifts, foundation leaders often feel paralyzed, plunged into free fall, scrambling, and unsure of how to adjust their philanthropic strategy. One client was embarking on strategic planning when Donald Trump unexpectedly became president. Assuming his election required a strategic overhaul, they delayed planning for a year. But Trump didn’t necessitate major changes for their localized health conversion foundation. Their overreaction caused paralysis and loss of momentum.
It’s easy to get bogged down in meetings, site visits, events, and other activities that fill up your calendar but don’t advance your philanthropic strategy. I once coached a foundation director who wanted me to help her refresh their strategy quickly. Then she looked at her busy calendar and decided to delay strategy development for eight months. During this delay, the foundation paid its staff to be busy “working.” But the work was not aligned with common goals. As funders we must ruthlessly evaluate how we spend time, aligning activities with strategic priorities.
Fear is rampant in philanthropy. So much so I devoted an entire chapter to fear in my book, Delusional Altruism. Funders fear “coming out” in support of an issue. There’s fear of backlash to changing course. Many donors fear confronting their privilege and racism— “What if I discover unsettling truths about my wealth or myself?” This breeds analysis paralysis. One foundation spent two years and $300,000 developing a strategic plan due to fear (I can’t make that up!). The excessive data collection over action was rooted in anxiety, not necessity.
Some funders embrace frugality, believing lean operations increase community impact. However underinvesting in talent, systems, and grantees often backfires. Others feel too small to address root causes, sticking to incremental change. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A bold philanthropic strategy outlines obtaining needed resources and skills for maximum impact.
Lack of External Support.
It’s hard to strategically steer a foundation by yourself. Athletes, pilots, and surgeons rely on coaches, advisors, and specialists to help them improve their performance. But many philanthropists try to go it alone.
Not Anticipating Change.
The landscape is constantly shifting. A strategic philanthropist knows change is inevitable and builds in touchpoints to continually assess and adjust philanthropic strategy as needed. But many foundations set a strategy and doggedly stick to it long after it’s become irrelevant.
So how can you remove the drag and become more aerodynamic in your philanthropic strategy? After advising hundreds of philanthropists, I’ve identified seven core principles of transformational giving strategies:
- North Star Focus: You’ve clearly defined your vision and goals.
- Accelerated Impact: You’ve streamlined processes to move quickly and efficiently toward your goals.
- Priority-Driven: You’re focused on the priorities that will create the greatest impact.
- Anti-Frugality Infrastructure: You’ve adopted an abundance mindset and are investing in talent, technology, and operations vital to your strategy.
- Culture of Candor: There is open and honest communication about what’s working, what’s not, and why.
- Executive Agility: You continuously assess and refine your philanthropic strategy in response to changes.
- Joy: The work brings you and your team fulfillment, not burnout.
This framework creates alignment, clarity, and forward momentum. As a strategic advisor to UHNW donors and foundation executives it’s incredibly fulfilling to see the frustration melt away as they transform their philanthropies from sluggish blimps weighed down by overstuffed calendars, fear, and scarcity mindsets into sleek jets racing toward their ambitious goals.
The impact is tangible – engaged boards, motivated staff, powerful grantees, and improved outcomes. And philanthropists feel more joy and momentum in their work.
As Maya Angelou said, “Nothing will work unless you do.” My mission is to help philanthropic leaders maximize their impact by creating transformational strategies that take flight.
If you’re ready to make your philanthropy more aerodynamic, here are two easy ways to get started:
- Download my free guide on Creating a Transformational Philanthropic Strategy. It walks through the 7 principles and includes a workbook to apply them to your foundation.
- Join my next complimentary workshop “Aerodynamic Giving: Minimize Strategic Friction and Find Your Fastest Path to Impact” on November 29 or January 25.
In this interactive session, we’ll assess common sources of drag, design an aerodynamic strategy, and leave with an actionable roadmap. Seats fill fast, so be sure to sign up today.
With expert guidance, you can remove the friction slowing you down and gain momentum to make meaningful changes in our world. I look forward to helping you accelerate your philanthropic impact!