What Message Are You Sending To Grantees?


photodune-1152697-go-away-on-wooden-sign-mIf I had a career do-over, I might choose to be a signage expert. I am constantly appalled by poor signage, and occasionally impressed by excellent signage. To me, useful, informative, and strategically placed signs are one way for people to be kind to each other.  “We’re thrilled you chose come to Stanford University’s campus, our signs will help you find your way.” “Road closed ahead? Don’t worry, our signs will provide turn by turn directions and  explain how we are redirecting you.”

Good signs  signal “we’re glad to have you,” “we care about you and your experience,” “put your feet up and relax.”  Bad signs tell us we aren’t wanted, our experience doesn’t matter, nobody cares.

A few days ago I was in New York City for a fabulous workshop offered by a global expert on business relationships, Andrew Sobel (@andrewsobel) Cold, tired, and a bit overwhelmed by the bustle of 5th Avenue, I was delighted to see this sign welcoming me into St. Patrick’s Cathedral (@StPatsNYC)

Place to pray

I’m not Catholic (I’m not even particularly religious), but I felt cared for and had full confidence that I — a non church member and non NYC resident — was welcome to come in, sit down, walk around, pray, admire the architecture – whatever I wanted to do.

A few months ago I was in Minneapolis conducting site visits for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I was appalled to see this unwelcoming sign from the Marriott greeting me on my way to my room (after I had paid for for 3 people to stay at this hotel on a business trip).

Marriot sign

Assuming the worst in people and treating them like they are rowdy 7th graders on a school trip is no way to provide hospitality. After all, aren’t I (the sign reader) one of the guests that people should be considerate of?

We should all ask ourselves:  what do our signs say? What messages are we communicating to those who matter most – our clients, customers, partners, grantseekers, and community members? What is the user experience when they call us, wait weeks or for a return email, or go to our foundation’s website looking for information? How do grantseekers feel waiting in our waiting rooms? These are our customers, the ones helping us achieve our missions.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a philanthropy expert and consultant. If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe. On Twitter? Follow me @Philanthropy411.

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2014.

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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