Where’s The Joy?


joy-imagePhilanthropy is supposed to feel great. But what if it doesn’t?

As the holiday season approaches, many of us are reminded frequently that this is supposed to be a time of joy. Sometimes it’s easy to be thankful and happy about theblessings in our lives — especially if we work in philanthropy! But sometimes the joy gets squeezed right out of us with deadlines, overflowing inboxes, people we don’t like to spend time with (whether they are grantees, co-workers or foundation trustees), frantic year-end meetings that never result in action and much more.

When we lose the joy that should come with giving, it shows. We have less energy and enthusiasm to share with our team. Our creativity suffers, as do our relationships with grantees and partners.

I believe that the quest for joy shouldn’t be condensed into a few weeks but should be something we all strive for in our work year-round. Here’s a simple way to stop, take a breath and find your joy now and throughout the coming year:

First, create a list of everything you do — and I mean everything, from strategic planning to preparing for board meetings to grant proposal review. And don’t forget your personal life — getting the groceries, mowing the lawn, and going to your kids’ soccer games also take time and energy. Feel free to group your activities into categories if that helps you.

Second, make three columns and label them:

  1. Brings me joy (it gives me energy and I never want to let it go)
  2. I can delegate (even though I can do it and I might even like doing it)
  3. I hate doing (it sucks the life out of me)

Third, for each activity, check the appropriate column. Be honest.

Fourth, circle all the activities that bring you joy. These are the activities on which you should spend 80-100% of your time. Period. Stop doing everything you hate. Now.

Everything in the “delegate” category can be assigned elsewhere: to an employee, an intern, new software or maybe even someone outside of your organization. Get an assistant. Reorganize your team. Promote someone who would find joy doing this activity, or who doesn’t mind it half as much as you do. Items in the “hate” category should be stopped, changed, delegated or at least reevaluated.

I do this exercise every year. Last year, I realized that there were many communications activities I liked doing and could do — such as posting on social media — but that were taking too much time away from things that I enjoyed even more. I found I could easily delegate these tasks to someone who is better and faster at it than me. I created an entire job description out of the communications-related activities that I could delegate and/or disliked doing. Then I hired a marketing and communications firm to do them.

Now I spend more time doing things that bring me joy, like advising donors and speaking, which helps me stay creative. I spend more time generating new content to help funders increase their impact and less time posting on Hootsuite. And guess what? My social media followers jumped from 20,000 to 70,000 in one year, and I have profoundly increased my content creation and dissemination!

By being intentional about what gives us joy (rather than on what just responds to our sense of obligation), we stay engaged in activities that matter the most. We are less distracted from our missions. We can think more creatively about how to change seemingly intractable social problems. We become our best and most productive selves. And we are able to share that joy with others — not just during the holidays but all year long.

Additional Reading: 

What IS Delusional Altruism?

Transact Or Transform: What Kind Of Giver Are You?

Eight Questions to Improve Your Philanthropic Giving This Year

This article was originally written for and published by Forbes.com.

© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.” For more ways to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group.


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