The third webinar of our Nonprofit Thought Leadership Series took place at the beginning of May, and we were excited to welcome Kris Putnam-Walkerly as our presenter! Kris is the author of Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change and What They Can Do to Transform Giving. As a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author, Kris has helped hundreds of foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts. In this webinar, Kris shares her expertise to help nonprofit leaders learn how to prevent fear and overwhelm from holding you back, increase your speed and agility, stay focused on your top priorities, increase your effectiveness and impact during the crisis, and maintain momentum AFTER the crisis!
Check out the full webinar recording here, and read the Q&A’s from the webinar below.
Q: I’m feeling hesitant to fundraise when it’s not supporting COVID-related services. How should I relay the impact of what we do without seeming out of touch?
KPW: If you haven’t already, reach out to let your donors know you’re thinking about them and ask how they’re doing. Then listen. You don’t know how this crisis has impacted them financially, emotionally, or physically. In other words, don’t start with an ask. Instead, connect with a genuine conversation between human beings who care about each other in a crisis.
Then, let your donors know where you stand. Have your services changed? What hardships are your clients experiencing? Your donors want a clear picture of the impact. They also want reassurance that you are responding. Be honest. Have you had to cancel services and furlough staff? Have you applied for federal loans? Is your leadership team meeting weekly to navigate the new reality? Did you create a GivingTuesdayNow campaign? Have you adapted your strategy? What are your plans to reopen?
Finally, remind them of the value you provide and let them know how they can help. If your organization met a vital need before the crisis, that need still exists (but perhaps in new ways). Similarly, if your donors believed in your value last year, there’s no reason they wouldn’t believe in you this year. Assume they want to help and tell them how. Don’t limit yourself to financial donations. Perhaps they can introduce you to their banker to help you secure your loan. Don’t be afraid to expose gaps in your organizational capacity. Maybe this crisis helped you realize you lack technology or a communications strategy. Show how their contribution could help you build your infrastructure and increase your resilience.
Q: When I think about strategy, it makes me think about months of planning from our whole team. If we want to develop a strategy quickly, what are the main things we need to consider?
KPW: Remember, you don’t have to involve everybody in strategy development. Your executive director and board are critical, but the effort doesn’t have to include every board member. It could be your board’s executive committee, or you could ask your board chair to pick the board members likely to be most helpful (and available) in creating the strategy right now.
What often takes excessive time in strategy development is excessive data collection and analysis. In one of the chapters in my book, Delusional Altruism, I identify 12 questions we all should be asking ourselves, like, “What do we already know?” We often already know 80 percent of what we need to know. Spend a few hours with your team brainstorming about your nonprofit, the needs of the people and communities you serve, and how the crisis is impacting you. Are there critical questions you still need to explore? Quickly gather that information over a few days. Think of strategy as “our best thinking of the moment” and assume you can figure the rest out along the way.
Also keep the planning simple and time-limited. Ask yourself, “Who do we want to be a year from now?” What impact do we want to have in the next 12 months?” Then look at where you are today and determine the top 2-4 critical strategic factors that help you achieve your goal. For example, do you need different talent? A communication plan? Improved financial management? More diversified funding?
Q: Obviously times have changed, and our strategy has changed. But how do we convince team members or leadership to move forward with new strategies and priorities if they are stuck in their old ways?
KPW: When so much is in flux, this is probably the best time to break the log jam of old habits. Move this process along by helping them see how supporting the new strategy is in their own best interest. Then, along with identifying the resisters, identify the supporters. Enlist their enthusiasm and help in championing this responsive shift. Finally, create clear accountabilities. Assign people to implement top strategy priorities and identify metrics and deadlines. For example, if a top priority is to develop a communications plan, ask the person accountable to share a draft plan in two weeks at your next staff meeting. As everyone sees progress implementing your new strategy, it will build momentum across the organization.
Q: What are some strategies you employ to stay focused or “stop chasing squirrels” while everything around us is changing and our organization is needing to revise decisions on a daily basis?
KPW: The most important strategy is to have a strategy! A strategy is a decision-making tool. It’s a framework within which you make decisions that affect the nature and direction of your nonprofit. So if you don’t have one, create one in the next week. And if you do have one, review it to see what needs to change, given the new reality. Your strategy should guide your day-to-day decisions. Next, identify the three to four top priorities for implementing your strategy. What are the most important things that must happen next? Assign “priority champions.” These are people accountable for achieving the priority, although it doesn’t mean they have to do everything. Delegate accountability so everyone understands the top two to three things they need to be doing. That’s what everyone should focus on every day when they “show up to work” at their home offices and dining room tables. When everyone knows what’s most important, it’s easier to stay focused!
Q: As we manage teams apart, how do we ensure they are engaged and motivated and focused on what we need to do?
KPW: Maintaining relationships becomes even more critical. One of my clients has been asking her team to email her every morning telling her two things: their top three priorities for the day, and how they are feeling. She’s realized that often several people on her team are duplicating effort without realizing it, and no one is focusing on the fundamentals! She also learns when people are having a hard day so that she can follow up and see if there are ways she can help. She has found this practice to be so helpful that she intends to keep doing it even when they are all back working in the office.
Q: Love the title of your book. Can you talk about the meaning behind it?
KPW: Thank you! The title is Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail To Achieve Change And What They Can Do To Transform Giving. It means that even when philanthropists genuinely want to make a difference, do the right thing, and change the world, they often get in their own way. Now, by “delusional,” I don’t mean crazy. I mean they hinder their impact unnecessarily because they hang onto a handful of deceptive and illogical thoughts. Delusional altruism happens to all of us and we often don’t realize it. When we can’t get out of our way, we reduce our speed to impact. When we don’t realize it, it’s difficult to change. For some of us, it’s a scarcity mentality. For others, its fear. Many of us ask the wrong questions, which send us down the wrong paths. Or we let ourselves be fooled by our own efforts. Of course, you’ll have to buy and read the book to learn more!
Q: You talked about investing in technology to help us during this time. What are some examples of tech that we can incorporate into our organization?
KPW: With technology, it’s essential to first think about what you want to accomplish, and only then determine if or how technology might help you. Otherwise, you will end up chasing lots of cool looking technology squirrels! For example, you can ask yourselves questions like “What has been difficult to accomplish during this crisis, and are there ways technology might have removed barriers or made it easier?” “Where do we have duplication, too many steps, or simply take too long? Could technology help us?” “What are we doing well, but we could accomplish it faster or better with technology?” Or “Is technology a critical factor in implementing our strategy?” I suggest prioritizing one or two areas where technology can help. Keep it simple. This does not necessarily need to be a major investment!