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How Grantmakers Can Plan in Uncertain Times 
Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert Kris Putnam-Walkerly -- Global Philanthropy Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Cleveland, OH
Tuesday, March 7, 2023


In today’s ever-changing landscape, many grantmakers are feeling overwhelmed and defeated by the uncertainty of the future. It seems like every other day there’s a new challenge to face, a new opportunity to assess, and a new plan to adjust. In a world where volatility and disruption are the new status quo, how is a funder supposed to plan ahead?

Here’s the thing: the most successful grantmakers are the ones who aren’t afraid to move forward, even when things are uncertain.

Below I share eight tips on how you can make the most of a rapidly changing landscape and plan ahead during uncertain times.

Tip 1: Change Your Mindset

One of the biggest obstacles to progress is a fixed mindset. When we cling too tightly to our plans, we become paralyzed by the fear of the unknown. But as the saying goes, the only constant is change. Rather than allowing the idea of an “unknown future” to paralyze you, let it free you.

Decide to be flexible and agile, recognizing that your plan will almost certainly have to change along the way.

Tip 2: Recalibrate Your Timeline

Gone are the days of spending 18 months to create a five-year strategic plan. By the time you’ve developed your plan, the world will have changed! While setting long-range goals is great, the reality is we can only plan for the next 12 months or so.

Instead of spending months trying to anticipate every possible contingency, focus on what you want to accomplish in the next year. Identify the most important things that need to happen in the short term and be ready to pivot as new opportunities arise.

Tip 3: Don’t Waste Time on Data Collection

Data is important, but it can also be a distraction. Many grantmakers spend too much time and money on one-off data-gathering exercises (learning tours, surveys, environmental scans), only to repeat the process several years later. Instead of trying to collect all new data, focus first on what you already know.

You probably have a wealth of information at your fingertips, and brainstorming with your team and grantees can help you identify any gaps. Move forward with the confidence that you will keep learning.

Tip 4: Focus on the “What” Before the “How”

Starting with tactics before having a clear understanding of your overall strategy is a common mistake among grantmakers. It’s important to first define the “what” you want to accomplish (strategy) before figuring out “how” best to do that (tactics).

You can start by asking “what” questions:

  • What do you want to accomplish in the next 12 months?
  • What is your objective?
  • What is your desired future?

Only after you’ve answered these questions should you start asking “how” questions such as “How can we get from where we are today to where we want to be in the future?”

Tip 5: Identify Top Priorities and Assign Accountabilities

At this point, it might feel like your foundation has 65 urgent things to do. But you can’t focus on 65 priorities or even 15. Pick three. Determine the top three most important things that must happen next to achieve your strategy. Communicate them to everyone, determine who will be accountable for each priority, and measure progress obsessively.

Once those are handled, then you can identify your next top priorities. That way your team is always focused on what’s most important.

Tip 6: Create a Roadmap of Actions to Take—and Take Them 

Take a thorough look at each priority and identify 5-10 next steps to go from your current state to your desired state 12 months from now. Then assign specific individuals and deadlines to each task.

Ensure that everyone involved understands their responsibilities and has a clear action plan. It’s easy to get sidetracked by creating fancy to-do lists or Gantt charts, but don’t let that delay you from implementing your plan.

Focus on taking action. One of the first things you’ll need to do is clear unrelated tasks and commitments from your schedule. This isn’t easy, but it’s essential if you want to stay focused on your top priorities.

Tip 7: Assess and Course-Correct. Then Do That Again. And Again

The future is unknown, so it’s important to check in regularly and adjust as needed. Identify regular intervals (e.g., quarterly), when you’ll review your plan, and ask yourself some key questions:

  • What progress have we made?
  • Has anything significantly changed externally or internally that might cause us to pivot?
  • What should stay the same, what needs to be modified, and what should be abandoned?

Then update your plan, determine top priorities, assign accountabilities, share it with your team, and keep moving!

Tip 8: Don’t Let “Perfect” Be the Enemy of Progress

Finally, remember that perfect is the enemy of progress. As a grantmaker, it’s far better to have a flexible plan that you can adjust as needed than to wait for everything to be just right.

Having a plan gives you something to move on and a framework for making all your day-to-day decisions. Above all, it prevents inaction.

The future is unknown. But by following these eight tips you can plan during uncertain times, make progress, adjust as needed, and change the world!

And if you need help, I am only a phone call away!

About Kris Putnam-Walkerly

For over 20 years, top global philanthropies, UHNW donors, celebrity activists, foundations, wealth advisors, and Fortune 500 companies have sought Kris Putnam-Walkerly’s philanthropic advisory services to dramatically increase the clarity, speed, impact and joy of their giving. As a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert, speaker and award-winning author, she’s helped hundreds of foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts. Kris also contributes expert philanthropic commentary to the WSJ, Forbes, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Alliance Magazine, Variety, Thrive Global, Worth Magazine, NPR's Morning Report, and other media. Awards include being named "Philanthropy Advisor of the Year" in 2020 and 2021, "Most Dedicated Philanthropic Advisor" in 2021, one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers" three years in a row, and most recently was a finalist for the 2022 Family Wealth Report Awards for “Philanthropy Advice.” Kris is the author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change and What They Can Do To Transform Giving (Wiley, 2020) and Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Kris Putnam-Walkerly
Title: Global Philanthropy Expert
Group: Putnam Consulting Group, Inc.
Dateline: Westlake, OH United States
Main Phone: 800-598-2102
Cell Phone: 510-388-5231
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