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It’s Time for Philanthropy to Flip the Script

It’s Time for Philanthropy to Flip the Script

In times of crisis, it’s time to pivot for good.

Philanthropy is never simple. Yet in 2020 the waves of crises crashing over communities everywhere have made achieving outcomes and impact harder than ever. In my view, it’s time to flip the philanthropy script and embrace this moment as an opportunity to pivot for good. Here are three things you can do:

  1. Review: The first step is to take time to “look under the hood” and review your operations, strategy, programs, partnerships, or other key areas of your organization. Flip the script and ask:
  • What has changed? Brainstorm all that has changed since the crisis began. These changes might be external or internal, big or small, and can include changes in your awareness and beliefs Don’t skip this step! The changes might seem obvious at first, like going into lockdown and the horrors of homeschooling your kids. Dig deeper and unpack all that has changed, positive and negative.
  • How have we responded to changing conditions? Being adaptive means that when change happens to us we can change ourselves to accommodate and maximize its benefits. To build your adaptive muscle, reflect upon all the ways you have responded to these changes. Ask: What have we done differently, and what was the result? What worked well and what didn’t? Why? What did we put in place before the crisis that has helped us during it? What role has technology played? What new practices do we want to maintain in the future?
  • If we could do it all over again, what would we do differently? This is one of my all-time favorite questions. Think about it. If we could turn the clock back to the end of 2019 knowing what 2020 would bring, what would you do differently? What would you put in place? How would you prepare? While we can’t predict the crises of the future, we can predict there will be more of them. How can you increase your preparedness and resilience today to prepare for tomorrow?
  1. Reset: The second step is about digging deeper to determine any necessary priority shifts and committing to accountability. The world has just changed. Whatever we were doing pre-crisis cannot possibly remain intact post-crisis. Now is the time to revamp your strategy, and to ensure that your strategy is living, agile, flexible. A clear strategy right now is your best friend. It’s a framework to help you make day-to-day decisions congruent with where you want to go. Flip the script and ask:
  • Who do we want to be in the next 12 months? If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the futility of planning three to five years out. Think about the next 12 months: what type of impact do you want to be having a year from now?
  • What needs to change? Look at your current situation or organization and determine: What stays the same? What needs to adapt? What needs to be radically overhauled? What should be abandoned?
  • What are our top priorities? Pick top three most important changes you want to make to help you reach your desired future state. What are the most critical factors that will get you there? Next, assign accountabilities: Who will be responsible for what, by when? Pick a date (in the next two weeks) to review progress in implementing these top priorities.
  • Who else needs to be involved? As fabulous and talented as you are, you don’t know everything. Who else do you need to learn from and meaningfully engage in refreshing and implementing your strategy? Engage, listen to, include, and act upon these voices and perspectives.
  1. Reframe: The third step is about transformation in practice, getting comfortable with having new types of conversations internally and with partners and grantees, and activating changes that can take root over the long term. Flip the script and ask:
  • What habits, systems, or ways of thinking do we need to leave in the past? Think about what you need to reframe in order to say goodbye to the status quo. This could include habits, beliefs and partners that might have served you well years ago, but no longer make sense today. Shed a light and determine what you can leave in the past.
  • Can you commit to having more open and fearless conversations with your team members, partners, and community? The best leaders show up for their people, listen to their needs, and demonstrate courage — even if it’s the courage to admit they’re uncertain about what to do. And now more than ever, these conversations should include understanding systemic racism, the roles we as individuals and organizations might play in perpetuating racist systems and structures, and what actions we can take.
  • What does long-term impact look like, and how will you and your partners know if you’ve achieved it? First, it’s important that everyone on your team understands your strategy, your top priorities, and their role in helping achieve it. That way, you are all aligned toward the same goals. Next, if your strategy is for the next 12 months, plan regular intervals — perhaps every three months — to review progress and make course corrections. While your mission stays the same, strategy can evolve and adapt as conditions change.

By reviewing, resetting and reframing you can seize this momentous historical moment to catapult your philanthropic effectiveness and increase your impact velocity.


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by Kris Putnam-Walkerly // Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy expert, advisor, and award-winning author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform Giving (Wiley 2020).

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.