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Get Out There!

September 08, 2016

Go_signI hope you had a great summer. Vacations, plenty of pool time, a little rest and relaxation — and lots of playing outside. Now it's time to hunker down in the office and get things done, right?

Wrong.

In my opinion, one of the last places a grantmaker should be is in the office. As foundation staff and trustees, we want to see community problems being solved. There's no way to create those solutions without getting out there and forging connections. And there are few people more suited to forging connections than those of us who work in the philanthropic world.

Building connections isn't something you do behind a desk. You need to get out into the community. You need to learn about problems by observing and discussing them firsthand with those who are most affected by them. You need to meet people on their own turf and look them in the eye before you can truly understand the assets they can bring to bear on a problem. And you need to listen, listen, listen to the conversations that almost never take place within your own foundation's walls.

Of course, not every foundation operates this way. It's not that foundation people are shy or too self-important to get out there – it's that they get caught up in the myth of the importance of being in the office.

I once knew a foundation executive who prided himself on never meeting grantees out in the real world, choosing instead to "host" them in his swanky office. While the gesture no doubt was well meant, it was an intimidating rather than a comfortable experience for grantees. And the time they spent traveling to and from the meetings was time they could have spent in other, more productive ways.

I can also name several foundations that have isolated their program staff from the outside world by engaging in overly complex and demanding grant review processes and board-docket preparation. (In one admittedly extreme case, the latter kept staff in the office for two months!)

Fortunately, there are a growing number of foundations out there that appreciate the value of having their people get out of the office and into the field. Funders like the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, which a few years ago redefined the role of its program officers, changing their title to "network officer" and tasking them with the expectation that the majority of their time would be spent on the road in communities across the state. What better way for a foundation to increase knowledge, build trust, and amplify its impact?

Headshot_kris-putnam-walkerlyGetting out of the office and into the community is good for your work and your mission. So as summer comes to an end, don't wait for winter by planting yourself behind a desk – get out there!

Global philanthropy advisor Kris Putnam-Walkerly recently was named one of "America's Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers." This post originally appeared on Kris's Philanthropy 411 blog. ©2016 Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group, putnam-consulting.com.

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