As a grants manager, you’ve always understood the importance of data, even if you don’t always consider yourself a tech guru. As the quarterback of the grantmaking process, you regularly collect critical pieces of information and synthesize it for future use. You’ve always known you needed data. But until recently, deep dives into the world of data were rarely expected from you due to a perceived lack of expertise, time, or mandate from leadership.
This post first appeared on The Center for Effective Philanthropy blog.
At effective foundations, the how of grantmaking is everyone’s business.
When grantmakers think about their funding strategy, we often focus on where we will give, to what, and to whom. We think about the results we want our funding to spark or enable. But strategy is supported (or not) by operations: the way in which grantmaking programs are structured and how grants are introduced, applied for, screened, decided, made, monitored, reported upon, assessed, and learned from. These funder practices are what we call “the how.”
The role of grants manager has evolved in recent years from primarily executing the foundation’s overall grant efforts to managing critical data that have the power to make a much broader impact across the organization.
But are you – a grants manager – ready to be your foundation’s data expert?
More grantmakers are using grants management software than ever before. In fact, the number of users has grown 66 percent since 2013, according to Idealware’s 2016 Consumer’s Guide to Grants Management Systems.
From Cardboard to the Cloud: The Evolution of Grants Management Systems in an Era of Learning and Collaboration
Adriana Jimenez is Director of Grants Management at the ASPCA (formerly grants manager at the Surdna Foundation) and also serves on the board of directors of the Grants Managers Network. This post was first published on Transparency Talk, a project of the Foundation Center.
The Surdna Foundation’s first grants management system was made of cardboard: it was a shoebox filled with index cards. (Next there was a custom-built system, followed by an off-the-shelf installed one). For decades this box served the foundation’s basic record-keeping needs, but technology – and transparency – eventually took precedence.
Now in its 99th year, the foundation has since ditched the cardboard for the cloud. In 2015 Surdna transferred its grantmaking database to the cloud-based grants management system, Fluxx.
So, you’ve decided to start using grants management software or switch to a new grants management system at your foundation. Great! Your life is about to get a lot easier. But there’s a hurdle you need to clear before you take take the plunge: You need to convince your team that it’s the right move to make at the right time for your foundation. Pitching new technology can be daunting. We’ve been there. And making the case for implementing a new grants management system can be especially intimidating to those of us who don’t come from a tech background. That’s why we created this three-step plan to get your team to say “yes” to grants management software.
When Ericka Novotny started at the Arcus Foundation three and a half years ago, part of her job entailed finding a new grants management system for the foundation. At the time, the foundation's system wasn't web-based, and as a result Novotny and her team were having challenges around managing information, including grant data that could be used to tell important stories about the foundation's grantmaking.
The San Francisco-based Christensen Fund focuses its philanthropic efforts in regions of the world chosen for their potential to withstand and recover from the global erosion of diversity. Most of the foundation’s program officers are located in these regions, including the African Rift Valley, Northwestern Mexico, Melanesia, and Central Asia.
To fulfill its mission of helping create a more biodiverse world, the Christensen Fund realized it needed a more flexible and forward thinking grants management solution. By early 2013, the foundation knew there was a smarter, more efficient way to award its $15 million of grants a year, and that it was time for a change.
Philanthropy leaders are at their most strategic and are empowered to build capacity when they have a strong awareness of themselves, their partners, and the field. I'll explain:
Awareness is pretty much the name of our game at the Foundation Center. The organization collects, analyzes, and distributes data about philanthropy, providing various audiences – from foundations to budding nonprofits to established grants managers – a firm understanding of what’s going on in the social sector.