Seven Ways to Increase Your Philanthropic Impact During COVID-19

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With every challenge comes opportunity. 

None of us would have chosen this moment, but now that it’s here, we’re all forced to respond. We’re navigating new territory in our personal relationships. We’re focused on keeping ourselves, our communities and our vulnerable family members safe. We’re processing too much worrisome news. And, in philanthropy, we’re working for a better world at a time when the Richter-scale of need just shot into the stratosphere.

It’s a lot to manage. It’s also a giant forcing function for growth and change — for ourselves, our organizations, and philanthropy. With that in mind, here are seven tips for making the most of this oh-so challenging time and coming out stronger on the other side.

1. Increase your agility.

Maybe you’ve noticed. Philanthropy often gets bogged down in its own processes. But with a little observation and intentionality you can transform the way you move from lumbering to downright swift. Here’s how:

  • Identify present and future opportunities and threats in the market and environment
  • Make quick decisions on which opportunities to pursue
  • And when you have things mostly figured out? Don’t wait. Move forward quickly and execute your decisions confidently. You can always adjust along the way.

2. Be adaptive.

Unlike agility, which is proactive, being adaptive is reactive. When change happens, you can consistently change yourself or your approach. You are already doing this by working from home and holding meetings on Zoom. How else can you be adaptive? Ask yourself some key questions. What does adaptive mean in the context of your organization? How have you adapted during this crisis? What was easy, what was hard, and why? What approaches and ways of working are holding you back the most? What steps can we take to be more adaptive?

3. Innovate.

I think of innovation as applied creativity. It means you don’t just fix a problem by returning to the status quo, you improve. Everyone can generate innovative ideas. Keep in mind that humans need certain conditions to spur innovation. These include an organization willing to regularly identify and test new ideas, as well as leaders who champion innovation and embrace prudent risk.

Philanthropists shouldn’t just fund innovative ideas; they should generate innovations themselves. It’s a matter of regularly searching for innovative ideas, assessing them, developing the innovation and implementing it. When done effectively, it leads to a continual and dramatic rise in performance. 

4. Increase your speed.

We’re seeing many great examples of philanthropy moving faster than normal during this crisis. If you think you could be doing more, here are several ways to get started:

  • Take out your pruning shears and clear out the deadwood. Remove unnecessary organizational barriers getting in your way and slowing you down.
  • Maybe you have half as much time right now, so look for things you’d like to do more quickly. A three-hour executive team meeting? Try to do it in half the time. This mindset has a transformative power to open up new possibilities for collaborating and restructuring your work.
  • Ask “Why?” With so much advice and good ideas coming at you from every direction, make sure to take the time to apply only what makes good sense for your organization when the time is right. For example, not all organizations are ready to diversify their board of directors. To be successful many may first need facilitated training in undoing racism. By asking “Why?” you’ll avoid slowing yourself down by wasting time and resources on the wrong things.

5. Clarify your strategy.

Your best friend during this crisis is an updated strategy. Why? A strategy is a framework for decision-making. It shows you where you want to be in a year, how you plan to get there, and the most important activities you should be doing right now. When it feels like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you, it gives you direction for making key decisions, and tells you how to focus your time each day. Who wouldn’t want that right now?! 

The current crisis proves how five-year, or even three-year strategic planning processes can suddenly become a wasted effort. Even without a pandemic, the world is continually changing. Better to have a highly relevant yearly strategy, than an obsolete multi-year plan. Now is the time to review your strategy to determine what needs to change. And if yours is no longer relevant, get on that Zoom call and create one. 

6. Execute your strategy.

Once you have your strategy in place, move quickly into action.

  • Identify your top priorities and assign them to people who will be held accountable.
  • If you’re making a major shift, the people systems and processes that got you here won’t necessarily get you where you want to go. Adjust accordingly.
  • Maintain momentum. Get progress reports every two weeks from your leads. Think of the process as a series of short sprints versus a marathon. And don’t forget to celebrate accomplishments along the way.

7. Don’t slide back into your old ways.

Once you’ve made all these changes within this new reality, don’t (ever) return to your former ways of doing business! It won’t be easy. Old habits die hard. But if you make these changes with intention and commit to them for the long-term, you’ll be in a position to increase your impact and effectiveness continually.

If you’d like to dig a little deeper on these and a few additional concepts, please register for my free webinar. Also, many of the ideas mentioned here are in my recently-released book, Delusional Altruism. The book offers more in-depth information and examples of ways we hold ourselves back and how to achieve greater impact in philanthropy. 

One last thing. I’m trying to help as many philanthropists as I can right now. So, if you or anyone you know in the sector, from donor-advised funds to corporate giving to foundations to individual donors, who could benefit from one-on-one counsel to discuss strategy, I’m offering free 45-minute consultations. Please spread the word—or email meor sign up here to schedule a consultation.

© 2020 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 Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform GivingandConfident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, was named one of “America’s Top 20 Philanthropy Speakers”, I write about philanthropy for Forbes.comAlliance MagazineDe Dikke Blauwe and am frequently quoted in leading publications such as BloombergNPRand WSJ

Whether you are just getting started in philanthropy, want to refresh your giving strategy, or need to catapult yourself to your desired future, I can help. Let’s talk! Call me at +1-800-598-2102 x1, email me at kris@putnam-consulting.com or schedule a call.

New Service: 90-Day Advising

I’ll share best practices and help you with philanthropic, professional and work-life balance issues with a weekly call and unrestricted email access. This is not a regular offering of mine, it’s intended to help you not just navigate your philanthropy through the storm but to find sunny skies, and to be part of your support system. Together we can discuss any aspect of your work, such as managing your team and board remotely, identifying and implementing top priorities, developing new approaches and partnerships, maintaining focus, not feeling overwhelmed, and preparing for the recovery. I have limited slots, so if you are interested write me at kris@putnam-consulting.com to sign up!

My New Book, Delusional Altruism Just Released!

With the globe in the midst of a crisis that cuts deep socially and economically, those who can give are looking to step up in any way they can. But for philanthropy to be truly effective, it has to be approached with clarity— and freed of the all-too common errors. And whether through regular donations to charity, a small family foundation, or an organization that’s responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, how we give is just as important as what we give.

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“A candid and credible look at why ‘how’ we give is just as important as ‘what’ we give.” Kathleen P. Enright, President and CEO, Council on Foundations

How Can I Help You?

I serve as a trusted advisor to foundation leaders and high-wealth donors across the globe. My clients report immediate and dramatic improvement in both personal performance and philanthropic impact.

If you or someone you know could use my help, please send them my way. Contact me directly at kris@putnam-consulting.com or call me at +1-800-598-2102 x1 and we can work together to make your giving matter.

Want to learn more? Visit my website to learn how I help funders, access free resources, and read client testimonials.

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