The Best Practices You Never Knew You Had


swimmerWe often look to external sources for best practices, hoping that others have figured out the ideal way to accomplish something and we can simply duplicate it. But when is the last time you searched inside your organization for internal best practices? If the answer is rarely or never, read on! With a little time and intention, you can make dramatic improvements in your operations and grantmaking.

Let me give you an easy example. Swimming is a regular part of my week day exercise routine. My pool is lucky to have a wonderful lifeguard named John. Whenever the lanes are full, John helps new swimmers identify a lane and asks the lane’s occupant it he or she would mind sharing. John’s friendly manner always solicits a polite and affirmative response, eliminating any awkward moments between those in the pool and those who aren’t yet in it. It’s a terrific best practice.

So I was surprised when I swam there on a Sunday, and a different lifeguard on duty paid absolutely no attention to those wanting to share lanes. We were left to fend for ourselves and interrupt other swimmers. It became crystal clear to me that John had developed a “best practice” for his job that others could certainly emulate, but the pool management had not noticed and had not required all life guards to follow this customer-friendly protocol.

Similarly there are hidden best practices that exist among funders. Even if a staff is tiny, there’s likely to be someone who’s developed a practice that everyone can learn from. And even if you are the only staff or a donor with no employees, you probably have created some exceptional practices with some grantees that could be extended to all. These are likely to be small and informal things, developed more because of personalities and perspectives than because of any policy. For example:

  • A funding initiative that successfully exited after building the field.
  • A board member who spends one morning a month having coffee with different nonprofit leaders to better understand the lay of the land.
  • A program team that reads a new article each month and discusses its implications for the team’s grantmaking strategies.
  • A senior leader who regularly helps her staff identify ways to streamline their work.
  • A committee that regularly generates, tests and implements new innovations.
  • A program officer who maintains lists of potential connections and resources that may be useful to nonprofits, and sends this information along with a personalized, hand-written note to grantseekers who are turned down.

These things may seem like small touches, but they can have big impact in terms of the experiences and impressions that are created about a funder. And chances are, there are other hidden best practices at work in your organization right now. Go find them and elevate them so that you and your team can learn and improve your practices and policies accordingly.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. She was recently inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame, one of only six consultants chosen in 2017. In 2016 she was named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers, and authored the book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funderswhich was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.”  For more ideas, tips and tools to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group to read an article, listen to a podcast, or check out a case study.

When was the last time you evaluated your impact or analyzed the results of your work? Call Kris at 800.598.2102 or reach out by email at

“Working with Putnam is extremely beneficial. Their attention to detail – specifically in analyzing and sharing information to support our decision making – helped us to stay organized and on time and really made an RFP process that was so overwhelmingly big seem well organized to all participants.”

~Maisha Simmons, Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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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