How To Become Your Foundation's Data Expert

09/19/2016

data_expert_blog.jpgThe 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?

Philanthropy is in the middle of a qualitative shift in how it uses data. Thanks to open application program interfaces (APIs) from GuideStar, the Foundation Center, the U.S. Census Bureau, and many others, grants managers have unprecedented access to information. When such free and open access is combined with new grants management technology, grants managers benefit from a wealth of data right at their fingertips

The role of the grants manager has “evolved naturally as grants managers work with larger amounts of data, fueled by increasingly powerful technological platforms and processing power,” writes Adriana Jimenez, grants manager at the New York City-based Surdna Foundation. “Within this change, we are moving up the ladder on the Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom Pyramid from merely processing data, to helping foundations analyze it and convert it into valuable, meaningful information and knowledge.”

It’s clear, if you’re a grants manager, your job requirements and expectations are changing. You may be asked, in some cases, to be your foundation’s data expert. If this is a new role for you, don’t fear. It’s new to a lot of grants managers in your position.

To help you navigate the evolving role of the grants manager, we’ve compiled a few tips to help you along the way:

  1. Take advantage of the full range of your grants management system. And if your grants management system doesn’t allow you to utilize data to make better decisions and drive impact, find one that does. A good grants management system should give you the ability to not only look at the data collected, but to also understand what it might mean. You should be able to answer such questions like, Are you making progress? What’s working, and what’s not? And, is it time to scale up (or down)?
  1. Empower senior leadership. Enable senior leadership to make better critical decisions better by giving them access to the information they need. They should be able to tap into organizational and grants data on the fly (via mobile app). And be able to better strategize for site visits, identify grantees to greet at a reception, and check the status of grants to have more informed discussions.
  1. Track the right data. Grantmakers should collect data that will provide business intelligence. Instead of collecting data for data’s sake, grantmakers need to ask themselves where the decision-making moments are in their organization and what decision-makers need to know to make decisions with confidence. The answer to these questions may not be readily apparent. It takes communication, collaboration, and experimentation until you find the data that will answer the right questions or even raise the questions that need to be addressed to be most effective.

As Jimenez from the Surdna Foundation writes, “As grants managers, we now play a key role in strategy by facilitating smarter, data-informed grantmaking.” So begin digging into your data. The data has never been as abundant and as easy to access. Start experimenting and collaborating with the rest of your team to understand where your foundation can begin to use data to make a broader impact.

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.

Read the complete guide to Becoming Your Foundation's Data Expert.Click here for the complete guide.

Written by Aaron Lester