Why Consistent Quality is Key to Your Philanthropic Relationships


cafe-paris-francais-australien-coutume-cafeOn a recent trip to Mexico City, I was delighted to find a Starbucks right next door to my hotel. For a moment, I felt sort of guilty that I was being an imperialist coffee drinker and that I should go find an amazing Mexican coffee experience to try. But a quick gut check proved the opposite: I was jet lagged from an ill-advised red eye flight from San Francisco, and my priority was caffeine in the form of coffee that I could depend on. I like Starbucks’ Pikes Place blend and I needed the comfort and reliability of its consistent quality.

A few weeks later, I was walking in Palo Alto to — you guessed it — a Starbucks. I walked past an independent bakery and cafe. “I should go there and support a local business,” I thought. But then I thought of all the times I’ve done that and tossed the coffee because I didn’t like the taste. I kept walking.

Now many of you might complain that Starbucks is the bane of successful local coffee shops, or that the quality isn’t as good as some organic single malt variety from Ethiopia. It’s not that I don’t understand those points. And I’m all for trying new things (honestly!). But when I need to focus, keep moving, find a reliable ally, and wrap my hand around a touchstone of stability, I want the consistent quality that my Starbucks experience gives me.

The branding gurus at Starbucks and other companies know this. The relationships we build with the products and services we return to time after time aren’t built on haphazard or uneven experiences — they are built on consistent quality. How I define quality, in coffee or other things, may be different from the way you define it, but I guarantee you love your own favorite coffee (or other beverage) for exactly the same reason: you consistently experience the quality you value.

Companies understand that their customers have choices and will gravitate toward consistent quality. What if funders understood that as well? Grantees are just as vital to us as customers are to companies. What if we provided consistent quality to our grantee partners in a way that built value, loyalty and trust? If we did, we’d have grantee partners who were more willing to have honest conversations with us, go the extra mile with us, and even occasionally walk through fire with us when needed.

So how can Funders demonstrate consistent quality? It’s actually not that hard. Here are some simple ways ­– some of which you could implement immediately.

  1. Always return emails and voicemails in a timely fashion. I know of several funders who have written policies saying they will do this, but not all of them follow through. Respectful customer service is always valued, no matter who your “customer” is.
  2. Provide clear and consistent funding guidelines. Constantly changing or rewording guidelines to keep them “fresh” may seem like a good idea, but in reality it changes to how grantees apply for funds should only come when grantees express a need for greater clarity or when your grantmaking process or goals have been significantly changed. If the recipe is working, don’t change it without good reason.
  3. Make funding decisions based on clear priorities and demonstrated results. I’ve seen countless funders derailed in their funding decisions because of politics, or a belief that they should fund “everyone,” or pet interests of board members. When this happens, grantees and partners can quickly lose faith in your consistency – with good reason.
  4. Always walk your talk. How many funders call for collaboration, innovation or equity among their grantees without turning the mirror on themselves? If you want grantees to embrace these practices, start with yourself first. Be clear and consistent about what these terms mean to you and the actions you’ll take to embody them. That not only will provide consistency for grantees, but for your staff and board as well.
  5. Be transparent. Be open about your funding priorities, decision-making processes and timelines, values, and reasons why you choose to pass on some grants and not others. After all, if you feel an organization is keeping information from you, how much can you really trust them? (True, this is not something all strong corporate brands do, but I think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, don’t you?)

As funders, we’re not selling coffee or some other consumer good, but we are selling hope, belief, capacity and the concept that we can and should make the world a better place. If that’s not a calling worthy of consistent quality, then what is? Providing consistent quality in our work gives is lasting value, meaning, and dare I say – marketability. And that’s a good thing. After all, the more fans we win for philanthropy, the better.


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.

“Kris has a refreshingly clear-eyed point of view on philanthropy. She can cut through the noise and keep things focused, which has made her both a valuable advisor and a good speaker for our members.”

~Tamir Novotny, Executive Director, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy



Whether you’re a first-time CEO, a new CEO at an established foundation, or a board member who’s made a new CEO hire, you’ve got high expectations. New leadership means a chance to strengthen practices and implement change. It’s an opportunity to build a solid foundation for generations of philanthropic impact.

Luckily, you don’t have to go it alone.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly will provide confidential strategic assessment, advising and coaching to help new CEOs navigate all aspects of starting a new foundation or leading an established one. Because no two foundations – and no two CEOs – are alike, Kris tailors her approach specifically to the needs of the individual and foundation in question. All activities are designed with the foundation’s ultimate purpose and goals at the forefront.



June 28, 2017 – Community Foundations of Florida 2017 Annual Meeting, Florida Philanthropic Network, Naples

This provocative keynote will explore how community foundations can fall prey to “delusional altruism” – unintentionally getting in the way of their own impact and that of grantees – and how simple changes in common processes can instead create practices that are more productive and relevant for all.

Avoiding “Delusional Altruism”: How to Create a Legacy of Impact, Respect, and Value

July 18, 2017 – Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers Annual Conference (San Francisco, CA)

Before we begin to support our members work in racial equity, diversity and inclusion, we must first do the work in our own organizations and with ourselves. Join this workshop to explore the ways and tools used by members of the Forum to do the work at home before they are in community working. Kris Putnam-Walkerly will share findings of her recent her recent field scan, “The Road to Achieving Equity,” conducted on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Inside Out: Doing Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Work Internally

September 7, 2017 – Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers

In this session, you’ll hear what foundations are doing broadly to incorporate equity internally, as well as ways ABAG funders are making equity a part of their day-to-day operations. Kris will present findings from her recent field scan, “The Road to Achieving Equity,” conducted on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and share how institutions are making operational changes in order to incorporate equity in ways that encourage staff, better support grantees and partners, and achieve their missions

“Racial Equity & Philanthropy: Achieving Equity…How Exactly?”

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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