Personal Strategy: Mobilizing Your Self for Effective Grantmaking

Whether it's introducing new ideas into your foundation or offering constructive feedback to a grantee, grantmakers can develop personal strategies to meet the "soft" challenges of grantmaking. Effective personal strategy helps practitioners use their understanding of self and role - as learner, analyst, bridge builder - to manage the tensions that come with the job. In this guide, contributors discuss the elements of personal strategy and how it helps grantmakers to leverage their strengths in service to their objectives. The guide also explores why some grantmakers are able to think and work like "naturals" - and how the rest of us can emulate their style.


  • Understanding one's role and why it matters
  • Thinking like a natural in difficult situations
  • Reflective practice techniques for effectiveness

What's in the Guide?

  • Personal Strategy and Why It Matters
  • The Elements of Personal Strategy
  • Thinking Like a Natural: A Framework
  • Reflective Practice Techniques to Improve Effectiveness
  • takeaways
    Additional Resources: Personal Strategy

    The organizations below offer education, training, and consulting services that are informed by role concepts. All contributed to GrantCraft’s workshops on role and this guide:

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  • takeaways
    Working Like a Natural: Techniques for Personal Strategy

    Frustrating incidents provide good opportunities to reflect on personal strategies that haven’t served us well. By taking the time to revisit those incidents, we can better understand weaknesses in our strategies and prepare to address them.

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  • takeaways
    Thinking Like a Natural: A Framework for Personal Strategy

    The power of an analytic framework is that it provides a way to understand explicitly things we already do but don’t usually reflect on. A framework like this can be helpful in two ways:

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  • takeaways
    The Elements of Personal Strategy

    Grantmakers who have internalized a strong sense of their role, their self, and their system are constantly devising personal strategies to manage swampy situations — and performing more effectively as a result.

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  • takeaways
    Personal Strategy and Why It Matters

    The challenges grantmakers find in ambiguous situations are often further compounded by several tensions that come with their jobs. They work for the public good, but in private institutions.

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  • takeaways
    How Do You Build in Learning When There’s No Time to Learn?

    Time is a scarce commodity - a reality that's as true in foundations as in any organization. Grantmakers need to spend time wisely on activities that add value to their daily work and increase their ability to do good work in the future. By those criteria, learning ought to get high priority, yet it's often the case that learning gets squeezed out when time gets short.

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We hope this guide will inspire grantmakers and other foundation practitioners to reflect more deeply on the relationship between organizational effectiveness and personal strategy in their own institutions and elsewhere.

  • Board members or executive staff, peer group sessions, or groups with cross functions might use the five reflective practice techniques (described on pages 13-15 of the guide) as starting points for discussion about difficult situations in their work on an ongoing basis.
  • Grantmakers might use the analytic framework (see page 7 of the guide) as they plan for situations they know might become difficult or look back on ambiguous situations after the fact. A grantmaker may also want to use the reflective practice techniques to pair up with a colleague or with a grantee or grantseeker to explore a different way of managing a difficult situation - especially one where both parties were dissatisfied with the outcome.
  • Please see the guided reading content associated with this guide for more in depth questions related to personal strategy.