Grantmakers: 3 Reasons Foundations Should Adopt New Technology Now

03/15/2016

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Technology simply makes your life better.

It’s a sweeping statement to be sure, but it’s one we believe in. We hear it over and over again when we speak with foundations and other grantmakers who have recently adopted new technology, like grants management software. They tell us that implementing the right technology, the right way, vastly improves their day-to-day work.

But here’s the rub. More than 75 percent of foundation executives don’t fully understand the benefits of technology, according to the Grants Managers Network (GMN) and Technology Affinity Group’s (TAG) 2014 Grantmakers Information Technology Survey Report. “This may be a key factor in limiting the potential of technology advances to benefit foundations’ strategies and operations,” the report continues.

But I suspect most of you instinctively know that technology can improve your life, or in this case, your work. You know that it has the power make things easier – like grantmaking operations, or creating more transparency at your foundation. And it’s not necessarily that you’re unsure of how to make the leap. Maybe you already have the IT resources to take care of that, or maybe you’ll get outside help. There are many ways to initiate a successful implementation.

The real question you may be asking yourself is – why now? Why should I adopt new technology now? Well, we’re here to tell you the 3 reasons to adopt technology now.

The right piece of technology, coupled with the right approach and team, can help you:

  1. Eliminate human error.
  2. Increase transparency.
  3. Save time.

We spoke with Don Matteson, Chief Program Officer at The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, and posed the same question to him. Matteson recently oversaw a comprehensive upgrade of the Tower Foundation’s technologies – including the implementation of Fluxx, which he thinks of as his real-time grants database. “Having all of our information in Fluxx and being able to see things at various stages of development (draft, preliminary submission, draft proposal, proposal for review, proposal going to trustees) helps us all keep tabs on what everyone’s working on and how close a proposal is to a funding decision.”

Eliminate Human Error

“Technology has made everything faster, smoother, and more efficient,” Matteson continues. “We don’t have a lot of human error anymore.” Matteson describes how, without the right technology things can go wrong very easily: He, only half-jokingly, told us that he’s seen grantee payments sent late because paperwork literally fell behind a desk, and calls never made because Post-Its with important phone numbers were misplaced.

Matteson said that the Tower Foundation began to regard these small, but impactful mistakes as large, but fixable problems. So the Tower team  set out to institute an organization-wide shift: adopt (good) new technology now.

Instead of relying on employees to file all their paperwork correctly all the time, or to remember the exact date each check was due, or each proposal signed, the Tower Foundation uses Fluxx as its repository for that knowledge, chock full of grantee and partner data. Now they don’t have to think about when checks are due, or the progress of each grant or application: Fluxx does that for them.

Increase Transparency

Transparency is another huge benefit. Tower isn’t lagging behind in the transparency game anymore. The foundation, Matteson explained, had been interested in sharing more and more of its practices with its beneficiaries and partners for some time. Once they built a larger technological structure to support their work, which included Fluxx, it brought with it the benefit of a real-time grants database. Additionally, Matteson said, they were able to share changes at the Tower Foundation with the public via social media and blogging.

Save Time

The crux of Tower’s decision to adopt new technology came down to the very valuable benefit of simply having more time. In this case, it means more time to get back to the basics of supporting important work in areas like mental health, substance abuse, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. The minute his Fluxx implementation was over, Matteson says, his team was able to be out in the community with their grantees much more. As a result, their relationships with the nonprofits they fund are strengthening and thriving.

Long Term Benefits

What’s more, adopting new technology also has long-term benefits. Aside from connecting with grantees and beneficiaries, foundations have the opportunity to redefine their internal structures. Now that the Tower Foundation has implemented Fluxx’s Grantmaker software, “We rely less on institutional memory,” says Matteson. Which means that the Tower Foundation has a “longer-term perspective in mind, because our institutional memory is now shared. We can pick up wherever anyone else has left off.” If staff members move on to other positions at other organizations, the Tower Foundation won’t have to rebuild relationships from the ground up, or hunt through stacks of papers to unearth the status of a grant, or figure out whom to contact at which organization. The information is all easily accessible.

Ultimately, Matteson believes that this technological shift has changed the way the Tower Foundation works on a fundamental level. One of the main reasons behind the shift was that the foundation wanted to “move away from a transactional way of doing things to have a deeper relationship with grantees.” They’ve certainly made good on that goal. After hearing about Tower’s technology wins, maybe the question you should be asking yourself is, can I afford NOT to implement new technology now?

Eliza Smith is frequent contributor to Fluxx and the special projects associate at Glasspockets, a project of the Foundation Center, San Francisco.

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Topics: Grantmakers

Written by Eliza Smith