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Harnessing Joy as a Catalyst for Philanthropic Change
Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Cleveland, OH
Monday, December 21, 2020


Three simple questions to begin a joyful process to amplify your impact.

Over the last 10 months, the world has been watching and experiencing how systemic racism and injustice magnifies personal hardship and undermines recovery. At the same time, more and more people wonder how they can change the relentless reality of inequities and oppression, of division and mud-slinging – to create a better world for everyone.

While we all have a role to play, those of us working in philanthropy find ourselves in a unique position. How can we, as funders, help to initiate, expand, and improve philanthropic giving to help tackle these challenges, as we ask the overwhelming question, “What can I do?”

The first step is to consider that this may be the wrong question. While a sense of weighty responsibility is essential to galvanize action, think about how much more energy you feel when you hear the question: What brings you joy? This frame immediately moves people from generalities to specificity, from obligation to desire. “Does this bring me joy” is just one of a dozen questions I suggest all philanthropists ask, in my new book Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change and What They Can Do To Transform Giving.

Three Simple Questions

Here’s an easy exercise to begin a joyful process of discovery. Ask yourself three questions:

1. What do I love to do?
Public speaking? Convening people? Behind-the-scenes support? Teaching? Learning? Advocating for change?

2. What do I enjoy but could easily delegate?
Event planning? Communications? Reviewing proposals? Designing funding initiatives?

3. What do I hate doing?
Managing people? Engaging with the media? Solving logistical problems? Grants management?

What you might immediately notice from the list above is that if you asked any given person the same questions, their answers would likely be entirely different. The love column for one person can easily be the loathsome activity for another. The beauty in this? As each of us steps up to help solve the world’s most critical problems, we can do so in a way that gives us the most energy and joy.

I do this exercise every year. I recently realized that there were many communications activities I liked doing and could do—such as posting on social media—but that took too much time away from things that I enjoyed even more. I found I could easily delegate these tasks to someone else. I created an entire job description of the communications-related activities that I could delegate and/or disliked doing. Then I hired a marketing and communications firm to do them.

Now I spend more time doing things that bring me joy–like writing a book and helping philanthropists increase their impact–and less time posting about it.

Share the Joy

By being intentional about what gives us joy (rather than responding out of a sense of obligation), we stay engaged in the activities that matter the most. We can think more creatively about how to change seemingly intractable social problems. We become our best and most productive selves. And we can share that joy with others.

That doesn’t mean philanthropy isn’t hard. Being philanthropic can test our endurance and try our spirits. As philanthropists, we feel embarrassed when we recognize our unconscious discrimination. It’s disappointing when your innovation is a flop. It’s painful to support people who have just experienced trauma, such as the loss of a child or a natural disaster. It’s hard to tell a nonprofit leader you aren’t giving him a grant.

Growth Challenges

But these growth challenges are different from a daily grind that gives nothing back. Sometimes the joy gets squeezed right out of us with overflowing inboxes, people we don’t like to spend time with, and frantic year-end deadlines. On balance, though, we should feel dramatically more joy than frustration when it comes to giving. When you reflect on your philanthropic efforts, whether it involves making public appearances, wrangling family members to agree on funding priorities, or the physical labor of building a school, delight should outweigh disappointment. You should feel overjoyed and not overwhelmed.

In this way, you can tap into a wellspring of energy, engagement and enthusiasm. You’ll help create space for depth in partnerships and relationships while upping satisfaction and impact. And you’ll experience the drastic difference between checking a box versus accelerating toward maximum impact velocity.

© 2020 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

About Kris Putnam-Walkerly

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW is a global philanthropy advisor and president of Putnam Consulting Group, Inc. For more than 20 years, top global philanthropies have requested Kris Putnam-Walkerly's help to transform their giving and catapult their impact. Widely considered to be one of the most sought-after philanthropic advisors, Kris has helped over 80 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts. 

As a philanthropy expert, advisor and award-winning author, Kris's clients include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, J.M. Smucker Company, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Heising Simons-Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Walton Family Foundations, Avery Dennison, and Fujitsu, among dozens of others.

A thought leader in transformational giving, Kris was named one of America's Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers for two years in a row. She is the author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders and the forthcoming book Delusional Altruism (Wiley; February 2020); a regular Forbes.com contributor on philanthropy; a global content partner to Alliance Magazine; and authored a chapter on "Transformational Giving: Philanthropy as an Investment in Change" in a new book on impact investing, The ImpactAssets Handbook for Investors. Kris is also a frequent contributor in the publications of leading philanthropy organizations, including the National Center on Family Philanthropy, Exponent Philanthropy, Southeastern Council on Foundations, Foundation Center, PEAK Grantmaking, and Giving Northern Ireland. Kris also provides expert commentary about philanthropy in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Entepreneur.com, and other media. Most recently, she was featured on NPR's Marketplace Morning Report and in Bloomberg Markets magazine. She co-edited The Foundation Review's themed journal on philanthropy consulting. In 2017 Kris was inducted into the Million Dollar Consulting® Hall of Fame, one of only 75 consultants chosen world-wide.

Prior to forming Putnam Consulting Group, she was a grantmaker at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and an evaluator at the highly esteemed Stanford University School of Medicine.

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Group: Putnam Consulting Group, Inc.
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