How to get unstuck

Mark PetersenGrantmaking

Family foundations start out with lots of dreams to impact their communities through their giving, advocacy, and support. They usually start by giving close to home and to those with whom they have a pre-existing relationship. But over time challenges arise. Personnel changes, program developments, lack of project fulfillment, and changing priorities by donors create situations where givers begin to feel stuck in their familiar charity’s annual expectations.

Charities depend on the financial resources on offer, and as they plan their annual budget, vast assumptions are made regarding major donor giving. Many major donors aren’t transparent about their long-term commitments. Often their plans assume continue giving each year based on gut-level intuitions about the status of the relationship. Did they attend our annual gala? Did they subscribe to our social media feed? How’s their business doing? It’s a distressingly vague basis on which to set one’s budget.

I dug around on my bookshelves searching for a book I knew I had on getting unstuck. I found this jewel and realized that years ago, I had used the book to “unstick” myself from patterns of giving that had become burdensome. I used it to pivot our family foundation in a new, clearer direction that became our strategy for the next five years. Unstuck, by Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro, California-based researchers and strategists, is worth your consideration.

Here are three keys I developed to getting unstuck out of sticky charity relationships:

(1) Commit to clarity: Review your past grants, assess them for their stickiness, and communicate to grantees of your plans to become unstuck well in advance of them setting their budgets. One organization we adored benefited from years of six-figure multiyear commitments. But I felt stuck. They needed to know we needed a break from the relationship, and to introduce new ways of operating. A clear conversation followed up with written confirmation allowed the relationships to remain, trust was preserved, and today we are back funding their projects with enthusiasm.

(2) Test a new solution: In our clients’ grantmaking we try to include new organizations in every cycle. Our goal is 20%. This allows for commitments to organizations they love, but it also frees room for others to come to the table. This allows for a constant flow of new ideas and opportunities for families to consider. It’s allowed us to discover fascinating new organizations we’re proposing this year like Kurumbuka Leadership Solutions and Innovators and Entrepreneurs Foundation.

(3) Trust outside voices: We’ve learned over the years that listening to outsiders is essential. Within the close-knit family circle, we run around in circles with the same perspectives being heard and considered. Family systems are frequently bogged down by unhelpful patterns. Other voices are needed to bring variety and fresh thinking. The value of an objective and respectable third-party perspective is an immense value to lead your foundation to have greater impact. This is one of the values Stronger Philanthropy brings to its valued clients.

Do you need to get unstuck in your philanthropy? We can help. Contact us today.