This piece was originally published through Putnam Consulting by Kris Putnam-Walkerly.
Maybe you’ve been practicing philanthropy for a while and you’ve mastered the basics—the essentials you need to create a solid grantmaking strategy and process. How do you take your work and your effectiveness to the next level?
It’s one thing to be competent; it’s another to go beyond the basics and really hone your craft. Here are four smart grantmaking practices that will help you do just that:
Practice #1: Organize your work around your values. One of my clients was the new CEO of a health foundation. When she started she was delighted to see that words like “evaluation,” “learning,” “transparency” and “results” were written everywhere in the foundation: in its values and principles, in strategic planning documents and logic models. So she was surprised to discover that a learning culture did not exist in the foundation. The foundation was not living its values of learning and evaluating to improve results. What sets some foundations apart is that they live and breathe the values they claim, and put systems and processes in place so that everyone is very aware of them. When that happens, values become part of how you do business.
Practice #2: Recognize that grantmaking is about relationships. It’s true that you’re making grants, and probably making a difference, but a purely transactional process is not very meaningful to you or your grantees, and makes it virtually impossible to identify new needs, opportunities or ways to leverage your funding for greater impact. To change that dynamic and get a better understanding of the community you serve, you need to build stronger and deeper relationships with your grantees. Ideally you want grantees to trust you enough to be completely honest with you about what’s working and what’s not working, so that you can help them and they can accomplish more.
Practice #3: Adopt an abundance mentality rather than a poverty mentality. A poverty mentality stems from a misguided belief that maintaining a Spartan operation equates to delivering value for grantees and communities. An abundance mentality is a belief that internal investment is important, and the more you put into your operation, the more you get out of it. It’s based on the belief that the more you put into life, the more you get out of it. An abundance mentality doesn’t have much to do with money– but rather with outlook and attitude. If you think small, you will act small, and your results will be small.
Practice #4: Test, learn, improve, repeat. Learning from your grantmaking is important, but it isn’t that helpful if it’s only happening inside your head or the heads of your internal team. Learning should be intentional and shared. Based on what you learn, you should make specific improvements or modifications, or even drastic changes. To be intentional, you need to make room for reflection. Create some systems, processes, plans or timelines that will allow you and your colleagues to reflect on what you are learning, discuss it, document it and make decisions. Learning from grantmaking isn’t rocket science and you don’t have to hire an evaluator to tell you what you’ve learned. Just be intentional, plan to learn and be willing to share what you learn with your entire staff and board — or better yet, your philanthropic peers. There are many ways to become a more savvy grantmaker. This list is just a start, but don’t let any of these points overwhelm you. Start with one, and grow your abilities from there.