Six Ways Philanthropies Respond to Crisis


Some are more effective than others.


When the unexpected happens, we all wish we had the presence of mind of a first responder. But first responders aren’t born knowing what to do in an emergency. They train until the most effective responses become automatic. Part of their training also involves recognizing and overcoming weaknesses, so that when called to duty, they’re ready to act.

As a philanthropist, you can be just as ready and capable, even when faced with the overwhelm of a crisis like we’re all in today. It requires self-awareness about how certain tendencies (even in ordinary times) stall your essential work. It also involves setting up your organization to embrace the behaviors that lead, inspire and move the sector forward.

Want to understand where your organization falls on the crisis reaction spectrum? Ask yourself if any of these six behaviors sound familiar and then, if you haven’t already, embrace what makes you most effective and leave behind what’s holding you back.

1. Your first instinct is to hide.

You’ve been blindsided, and you’re completely overwhelmed. Rather than one of the philanthropists out front making headlines, you’re in retreat mode, unsure of what to do, frozen with fear, a deer in the headlights. But if you let fear take over, and then run for the hills, you exist in a separate privileged reality without the necessary knowledge, connections and relationships to be an effective leader. 

2. You’re waiting to see what happens next.

Philanthropists aren’t known for quick action even during the best of times. One of the biggest reasons is the lack of accountability. So it’s essential to recognize and counteract this weakness. Maybe you decide you need to gather more data when you already have the information you need. My friend Andy Bass, a renowned business consultant in England, calls this “planning to start to prepare to get ready for change.” During COVID-19, there are any number of factors and unknowns from technology to government funding that will continue to unfold and impact the sector. But if you hit the pause button you’re missing out on change-making opportunities. In fact, waiting on the sidelines is a luxury that none of us can afford, least not your community.

3. You’re giving fast.

This is like triage at the hospital. You identify and prioritize the areas of greatest needs and get the money out the door as quickly as possible. Maybe that means additional funding to existing grantees, or funding that helps keep first responders safe. Or you’re helping to shore up local crisis response funds.

4. You’re giving differently.

Were you already an adaptive and responsive organization or was this the moment when you realized that many of your internal policies and protocols were simply dead wood holding you back? Either way, you’re removing barriers. Deadlines, funding parameters, applications and more have changed so you can achieve your mission by offering critical and relevant support to grantees when and where they need it most. 

5. You’re creating new response mechanisms that haven’t existed before.

Many community foundations are at the heart of some of these new endeavors creating central crisis response funds. Other philanthropists are recognizing that together with new partners and collaborations they’ll get more done. In other cases, foundations are leading with newly minted and responsive supports like webinars and trainings to help grantees surmount technology hurdles and apply for federal loans. 

6. You’re transforming how you work for more impact now and into the future. 

If you’re owning all seven critical behaviors detailed in last week’s newsletter, then you are firmly in active responder mode. These include being agile, adapting, innovating, increasing your speed, clarifying your strategy, executing on your plan, and not sliding back into your old ways.

Regardless of where you fall on the response spectrum, it’s never too late to become a more effective philanthropist. Also, if this is a marathon, we’re still in the first mile. Since we grow the most when we’re forced to stretch, in times like these, just asking some key questions can be a powerful way to move forward. “If we could do it all over again, what would we do differently?” Or “What do we wish we’d done before the crisis?” Or “What new practices do we want to maintain?”

If you’d like to dig a little deeper on these and additional concepts, please register for my free webinar: 7 Ways to Increase Your Impact During the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 more significant impact in philanthropy. 

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 or schedule a call.

© 2020 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

4 Ways I Can Help You During This Crisis


Free Strategy Consultations: For a limited time, I’m offering a FREE 45-minute Zoom consultation to discuss your current strategy and help you determine if it needs to be tweaked, adapted, or completely redone, in light of the new reality we are in. And if you don’t have a strategy, we can talk about how you can quickly create one. There’s no expectation or “pitch” at the end of the call—I simply want to help. I have limited slots, so if you are interested simply click here or reply to this email. I will get back to you within 24 hours (or sooner) so that we can schedule a call.

90-Day Coaching: I’ll help you respond, stay focused, and lead through this crisis 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 to learn more and sign up!

Sentient Strategy®: If this crisis had taught us anything, it’s the futility of spending one year to create a three-year strategic plan. Sentient Strategy is a revolutionary approach to formulate strategy quickly, to be used immediately for as long as conditions warrant, and then to make changes rapidly as conditions change. It builds a flexible, adaptive strategic approach that creates a roadmap for change and holds people accountable for quick implementation. You’ll achieve faster results, and have a flexible template for adjusting course regularly. Sentient Strategy can be developed in person or remotely within a week. Contact me at if you’d like to learn more!

Free Webinar: My upcoming webinar, Giving Resiliently Through The COVID-19 Pandemic, with iWave on May 26 at 1PM ET is for all types of philanthropists—individual donors, foundations, corporate giving programs, giving circles, family offices, and donor-advised fund holders—who are looking for ways not only to navigate through this crisis, but increase their philanthropic effectiveness. Register here.

My New Book, Delusional AltruismJust 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.


“This book is a rewarding investment for any reader interested in reexaminig and changing how you give to accomplish the greatest impact for a cause you’re passionate about.”

Pamela Norley, President, Fidelity Charitable

“It’s well worth the time investment required for reading it beginning to end.” 

Garth Thomas, Author, The Hollywood Digest

About Kris Putnam-Walkerly


I’m a global philanthropy expert, advisor and award-winning author. I’ve helped hundreds of ultra-high net worth donors, celebrities, foundations, Fortune 500 companies and wealth advisors strategically influence and allocate over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts. I was named one of “America’s Top 20 Philanthropy Speakers” three years in a row, I write about philanthropy for, Alliance Magazine, De Dikke Blauwe and am frequently quoted in leading publications such as Bloomberg, NPR and WSJ.

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


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.

Recent Posts

Follow Kris

Download a Sample Chapter of Delusional Altruism Now!

Just provide us with your name and email and receive this sample.

Download the Article Now!

Just provide us with your name and email and receive this article.