Stage 3: Swinging for the Fences
Some philanthropists stay in the experimenting phase with the bulk of their resources. Others get frustrated with the results they’re seeing, or get excited by the small-scale results they have funded, and decide to attempt larger-scale change. Such a move requires a well-informed and defined strategy (deeply informed by grantees and others in the field), a clear sense of what works and what is being tested, the right set of aligned partners, and realistic assessments of your progress against the results you want to see achieved. The more you listen to grantees and the field, and use what you’ve learned to adjust your course, the more likely you are to achieve the change you hope to see in the world.
You are in this stage if…
- You have a well-informed and clear strategy for how you will achieve success.
- You are making grant decisions according to your strategy.
- You are assessing your progress against the results you hope to achieve.
Questions to ask
- What have I learned about what works?
- How can I use my resources to the best possible effect?
- What do my grantees and beneficiaries really think about my approach?
- How can I improve as a funder?
Things to do
- Assess what is and is not working with your grants by listening to beneficiaries, grantees and other experts in the field.
- Continue to refine your strategy, based on experience—lessons learned from your past successes and mistakes.
- Continue to fund grantees that are aligned with the results you seek; for longstanding grantees, deepen your relationships and identify additional supports (beyond money) they may need.
- “Evangelize”—share what you have learned with the field.
Your goals for this stage
- Demonstrate progress against the results you are holding yourself accountable for. Or, perhaps you achieve your full vision of success!
At this stage, a common trap is failing to solicit outside perspectives and help. It’s important to seek feedback about your efforts, because you are unlikely to hear bad news and receive constructive input unless you explicitly ask for it. Excellence in philanthropy must be self-imposed because philanthropy is exempt from the kinds of accountability imposed on businesses and government. There are no markets responding to your actions; there are no voters pressuring you to change your approach. How to do this well? First of all, ask! You are far more likely to gain constructive feedback from the field if you engage in direct conversations, and, in particular, if you are willing to be candid about where you have made mistakes . Second, engage deeply with your grantees to understand what they really need to succeed. It could be that there are relatively simple things you could provide that would make a big difference.
Another trap, even with a solid strategy, is knowing when to stay the course and when to adjust. It is difficult to stay on track, and refuse to be distracted. Of course, you want to be responsive to new information and ensure you—and your strategy—are getting better over time. One way to help do this is to review your decision-making process. This process should help align with what you are trying to achieve, while also allowing you to be flexible to incorporate new information as it arises.