How Delivering Philanthropic Excellence Is Like Moving Through Gas, Liquids, and Solids

How Delivering Philanthropic Excellence Is Like Moving Through Gas, Liquids, and Solids

Posted on August 19, 2022 by Rachel Hettinger, TPF Fellow 2022/23
Too often, when it comes to philanthropy, we move from ideas to solutions too quickly. This can lead to well-intended outcomes that create bigger problems that don't solve anything. How can we avoid this? Simple. Wander in the idea phase longer.

The Patterson Foundation values resources and expertise. Working with others, including those in community, the foundation seeks knowledge without arriving with the answer. TPFers know that this takes time because change happens at the speed of trust.

Think of philanthropic work as gas, liquid, and solid, whereas gas is the discovery and idea phase, liquid is building trust and a path forward, and solid is the action and fruition.

TPF is as comfortable and fully engaged in the gas phase as in the solid phase because TPFers have to do two things to deliver philanthropic excellence. First, as stated above, do not arrive with the answer. Second, evaluate all the possibilities by building connections and involving others to find the best path forward. Only then can we move into liquid and eventually into solid.

One of Digital Access for All's projects is a device distribution program. We know there is a need in our four-county region for community members to get devices so they may access the internet. However, we do not know the best way to do that. But, the people in the community who need the devices, alongside organizations who may already be doing this, alongside businesses who may be interested in helping, alongside research on other device distribution programs, hold the answer.

Therefore, we are still in the gas phase, connecting with people in our community, sharing resources, asking them what they need, doing research, and bringing all of these ideas together. We cannot find the answer on our own, but we can find it by providing an opportunity for everyone who needs to be at the table to share resources. This type of work creates new possibilities and a better path forward.

This promising practice allows foundations, donors, and nonprofits to learn to be more comfortable wandering in the gas phase, gathering ideas to deliver greater philanthropic excellence. I invite you to reflect on how quickly your ideas move to a finished product and explore where things could go if you allow yourself to wander longer.

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