Real Leaders

5 Ways to Think Like a Philanthropist and Become a Hero Now

Thinking about putting your philanthropy on hold till the summer or fall while you and your team regroup? The global COVID-19 pandemic is confusing. You might suddenly find yourself on lockdown, and working remotely for the first time, and figuring out how to homeschool your kids.

You may be reeling from the negative financial impact on your philanthropy or your family. Not to mention, being concerned about the growing health threat that puts you and the people you love in jeopardy. Given all these factors, it can be tempting to decide to scale back. After all, in philanthropy, there is little external accountability that requires funders to stay the course. It may even feel like you’re doing your team a favor.

But while it’s essential to continually check in and care for yourself and your team, there isn’t an equally compelling argument for postponing the critical work you do in the world. The opposite is true. In times of crisis, we need strong philanthropic leadership. Not only that, but the disruption happening now promises an evolving set of new normals over an extended period. 

So, before you succumb to being a full-on hermit and doing non-strategic tasks like organizing your home office or achieving a zero inbox, consider the alternatives. Now is an excellent time to be one of the many philanthropic beacons your community needs. Here are five steps to getting started:

1. Identify your top priorities.

While it might feel like your priorities should change, given all that has already changed in the world, you might be surprised to realize that they haven’t. If your strategy was to advance immigrant rights, that need still exists. Can you identify ways the virus is impacting that population and incorporate that into your work? Absolutely. While a virus doesn’t discriminate, the recovery process will. Those who were most vulnerable before this crisis will also have the most significant challenges recovering. You have an opportunity to do something about it, likely within the framework of your existing strategy and social justice work. 

2. Hold your team accountable.

Make sure your top priorities are implemented by designating “priority champions.” Priority champions are responsible for achieving each priority. Ask them to identify the top five or ten things they must do next to accomplish their priority task. They don’t need to do everything, and they can delegate tasks to others. Agree on realistic deadlines. Have them report back progress to you or your entire organization — regularly, during remote video conference calls. This holds them accountable and lets your wider team provide support and troubleshoot any problems that may arise. As top priorities and tasks are accomplished, add new ones to the list.

3. Allocate time to implement your top priorities.

Ever notice how putting something on your calendar makes it happen? So, make sure you and your team put a laser focus on your available time. Blocking out time to make headway on significant priorities is just as important as eliminating or delegating other items that don’t rise to the top. This may be the one thing made easier right now by the many canceled events and meetings wiped off our schedules. 

4. Focus on results.

If your strategy is clear and your priorities are in alignment, you won’t have to worry about confusing busyness with results. You’ll be making progress toward a clear goal. Don’t worry if people keep odd hours while navigating pressures at home. Offer flexibility, recognize their need to take care of themselves and their families, and trust that they will make the right decisions. It doesn’t matter if work gets done at 4:00 am or 4:00 pm, as long as results are achieved.

5. Maintain momentum.

Once you’re moving, it’s easy to pick up speed. At the same time, if you stop, it’s much harder to get started again. Remember that your top priorities warrant urgency even while there are many other concerns to contend with related to the pandemic. More likely than not, your team, like you, is over-the-top passionate about achieving these top priorities in service to a broader vision and mission. Boost morale by charting progress and celebrating successes. This is especially important if everyone is working remotely. 

For most, finding purpose and being useful — especially during times of uncertainty — offers solace and hope. Also, making headway on your priorities now will mean that you can do even more once the immediate crisis evolves, and new issues emerge. You’ll be in good company with other philanthropic leaders doing what it takes sooner rather than later, with strength, focus, and determination.

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