Step Over Inert Bodies


Inert body - Gratisography“It takes awhile before you can step over inert bodies and go ahead with what you were trying to do.”

I first read this quote from artist Jenny Holzer while visiting the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. I think it offers profound advice for us, both in life and professionally as grantmakers.

How often have you:

  • Dated someone who never quite got around to making something of life (getting a job, seeking promotion, finishing graduate school, etc.)?
  • Had a friend who never seemed happy when your life was going well (new job, birth of a child), because she was never happy with hers?
  • Wondered why a parent told you how much she loved you, but her actions never felt loving?

Similarly, as a grantmaker, how often have you:

  • Funded a nonprofit leader who had a great reputation but never really delivered as promised?
  • Tried to partner with another funder who put up roadblocks every step of the way?
  • Sought to introduce a new best practice into an existing grant program, only to be told “don’t rock the boat.”
  • Been encouraged by your board chair to evaluate your impact but then been discouraged from making any real change?

They are inert bodies. Step over them.

We need to recognize when people in our personal or professional lives are inert. When they don’t want to change, grow, advance, or improve.  And then we need to literally move past them toward the future we envision for ourselves and our communities. Break up with the boyfriend, make new friends, fund leaders whose impact is groundbreaking, connect with colleagues who share your vision, seek a new position with a forward-thinking organization, and find new board members.

Here are four ways to recognize when a person in your personal or professional life is inert:

  • You are asking the same questions over and over again, to the point where you anticipate the answer.
  • You feel energized with new ideas and opportunities, but when you share those ideas with this person, you feel drained and deflated.
  • You wonder why something promised never became a reality. Again.
  • Your efforts to improve your foundation’s grantmaking strategies, through best practices, new technologies, and efficient operations, fall on deaf ears.

You anticipate that no matter what you try, do, or say, nothing will change. If that is the case, great! You can say to yourself, “Oh, right, this person is inert!” and go around them.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a nationally recognized philanthropy expert and award-winning business owner. Learn more about her at, including how she helped the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation manage a record-breaking RFP process and helped the Cleveland Foundation develop one of its largest grant making initiatives.

© 2015 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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