Rapid strategy development in times of crisis


Kris Putnam-Walkerly


Strategies guide philanthropists during tumultuous times 

Philanthropists are most effective when they have a strategy. And, formulating that strategy is easier than you think. With a strategy ready to guide decisions, givers save time and increase impact.

What is a strategy?
A strategy is a framework for making decisions that influence the nature and direction of the enterprise. That “enterprise” could be you and your spouse, a family office, your foundation or a corporate giving program. In other words, it’s a tool to help you make decisions that are congruent with the direction of your philanthropy. Strategy provides the guardrails that keep you on the path to your desired future.

Strategy has two parts … formulation and implementation. First you develop it, then you implement it. Both are necessary for success. Too often, philanthropists lump them both into a single, lengthy “strategic planning process.” It’s far better to separate strategy formulation from strategy implementation.

How do you create your strategy?
To formulate your strategy, you first need clarity on a few things. You need to know:

  • Your Mission— why you exist.
  • Your Core Values— your beliefs.
  • Your Vision— your picture of the future.

The role of strategy is to take the current state of your philanthropy and move it to your desired future state as quickly as possible.

When you develop your strategy, you identify what you want your desired future to be. This might be the change you want to see in your community or the type of philanthropist you want to become. This is informed by your mission, vision, and values. It also might be informed by data, such as demographic trends, needs assessments, and the perspectives of the people you are seeking to help.

You can identify your desired future state by asking yourself questions such as:

  • Who do we want to be in a year?
  • What is the impact we want to have on our community? Or the world?
  • If we could achieve our ideal outcome, what would it be?
  • What do we want to look like, sound like, feel like, smell like a year from now?

How do you implement strategy?
To implement your strategy, you determine how to get from your current state to your desired future state. What are the three or four most critical strategic factors that will help you make the most progress? Steps include aligning your people, your systems, your structures, your operations and your grantmaking.

If the role of strategy is to move you from your current state to your desired future, it needs to be part of your everyday life. At every meeting, with every decision, for every employee performance review, strategy should be on the table. It should set the parameters, Remember, strategy is a framework (or a tool) that helps you make decisions that are congruent with where you want to go.

Can this be done quickly? Remotely?
Philanthropists spend too much time developing their strategy—often up to a year, and sometimes two years—when a speedier process is better. If you take 18 months to develop a three-year plan, half of the time is over before you start. If the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us anything, it’s the futility of lengthy strategic planning processes and the expectation that you can plan for the next 5 years!

Instead of strategic planning, think of “strategic sprints.” You want to formulate strategy quickly, for as long as conditions warrant, and then make changes rapidly as conditions change. With the right preparation, a strategy can be developed in as quickly as a day or a week, and can be done remotely.

What should funders be doing right now?
All philanthropists should be reexamining their current strategies now. Strategic plans from last year ago were based on different conditions, and now we’re living in a new world. Some things will be constant, some will need to adapt, and some will have to radically change. A revised strategy allows funders to create the right framework for decision making during this time. And if you don’t have a strategy, now is actually the perfect time to create one. Don’t get lulled into thinking you should wait until “things calm down.” Conditions will continue to change. You can revisit your strategy quarterly to determine if you need to make course corrections.

To help as many philanthropists as possible during this time, I’m offering a free 45-minute Zoom conversation to discuss your current strategy and help you determine if it needs to be tweaked, adapted, or completely redone. And if you don’t have a strategy, we can talk about how you can quickly create one. There’s no expectation or “pitch” at the end of the call – I simply want to help. I have limited slots, so if you are interested simply email me at kris@putnam-consulting.com or click on this link to schedule a call.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor. Learn how to banish this scarcity mind-set in her new bookDelusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform Giving.

This article was originally written for and published by Forbes 12 May 2o2o and has been republished with the author’s permission.

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