Since I got involved with Grants Managers Network (now PEAK Grantmaking) in the early 2000s, I’ve been inspired by its work improving how grants are made and helping the people who make grants happen do their jobs better. PEAK Grantmaking’s new strategic plan brings these principles into even sharper focus with goals focused on values-based practices and practice parity. The two are intertwined, and ideal practices are at the root of both:
The grantmaking process is never identical, grantee to grantee, but there are commonalities. Applications that come in are coded and assigned; grantmakers perform due diligence; grants are approved, paid, and monitored. And although it sometimes seems our peers in foundations see grants management as all about paperwork and data tracking, in truth, what we do is connect the dots between the data, systems, and strategies our organizations collect and enact.
Establishing consistent grantmaking practices is about finding solutions to questions and quandaries so we’re equipped to focus more on the big picture. For example, how do we define “outcomes” and “impact”? Which should we measure and report? My organization, Healthcare Georgia Foundation, is shifting from measuring impact (long-term results) to measuring outcomes (short-term actions). When I look at other foundations and the work they’re doing, I find a lot doing outcomes, but others doing impact. The division makes gauging the success of our grantmaking more difficult.
“Outcomes vs. Impact” is just one of several areas of grant management and foundation practices that would benefit from a set of consistent practices. With all the software, data and reporting tools we have, it’s clear to me we’re moving toward a digital and electronic environment, and my background in information technology tells me that standards and specific practices are a must. Eventually, all our data will be aggregated and analyzed together. If we have standards in place now, before we’re in a strictly digital environment, we’ll pave the way toward a much smoother transition.
I’ve worked at small foundations and large, corporate foundations, and I’m passionate about grantmaking practices. How we make grants expresses and furthers the missions of our organizations. Ideal practices allow us to focus less on administration and more on mission, and are as important to successful grantmaking as are programs and relationships.
About the author: F. Javier Sanchez, a grants manager for Healthcare Georgia Foundation, has been an active member of GMN since 2001, and was instrumental in obtaining GMN’s 501(c)(3) status and crafting its first strategic plan. His areas of expertise include grants management, information technology, and project management.