Three conditions for dramatic impact in philanthropy


Kris Putnam-Walkerly


Have the most impact possible in your charitable giving.

If you want to achieve dramatic impact in philanthropy you need to know where you’re going, you need to get there, and you need to know if and when to change direction or find better routes along the way. Here are three conditions to remember:

Strategy formulation. Simply put, if you don’t know where you are going you’ll never get there. Formulating your strategy means identifying your desired future – what kind of change do you want to see in the world or what kind of organization do you want to become? Having a strategy is helpful because it provides a framework that allows you to make smart decisions and choices, such as how you allocate your time and what you fund.

Strategy implementation. There is no point in having a brilliant strategy if your team isn’t implementing it quickly. You’d be surprised at how often strategy fails in implementation. Successful implementation is all about determining priorities, assigning accountabilities, and aligning your people and systems. Learn more about 10 steps to rapidly implement your strategy.

Continuous learning. None of this matters if you aren’t learning from your strategy and making course corrections along the way. Let me give you an example. When the David and Lucile Packard Foundation convened its grantees to understand why its summer learning initiative wasn’t gaining the traction they anticipated, they realized that they needed school district superintendents to serve as summer learning champions throughout California. So they began engaging superintendents as advocates, practitioners, and supporters. The results quickly improved.

Having one or two of these conditions in place is nice, but you need all three to achieve dramatic impact. For example:

  1. If you have a strategy and you are learning a lot, but you never implement it you are dead in the water.
  2. If you have a strategy and are implementing it, but you aren’t learning along the way you are on your way to stagnation.
  3. If you are implementing a bunch of stuff and learning about it, but lack a clear strategy you are all over the map.
  4. When you have a strategy, are implementing it, and learning and making course corrections along the way, you are achieving dramatic impact.

It can be intimidating to ensure all these conditions are in order. But it’s easier than you might think! Sometimes to get the impact you desire, getting outside help from an advisor who can be your sounding board and guide along the way can be essential to making the necessary changes to take your philanthropy to a new level.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and founder of Putnam Consulting Group

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