Focusing on People and the Pursuit of Audacity

Coming from the financial services space, I know well the sense of excitement and fear that technology brings – online banking, for example, has introduced a whole level of convenience, but has set consumer expectations high and put some roles at risk (Some tech stars like Elon Musk suggest that a Universal Basic Income is inevitable – if no one works, how will we get paid? ).

Similarly, in the over 120 projects we’ve completed with grantmakers, we sense a similar emotional potion when we talk about a digital future. On one side we hear, “This will save me so much time!” “I love the automated data flow.”, but inevitably fears also arise: “What will happen to my job?” “What am I going to do now?”

Grants officers share both positive and negative reactions to automation.
‍Automation can be a great help… but is it also a threat to the jobs of grants managers?

We of course empathize with many of these concerns – these feelings are a human reality –  but to focus forward, we’ve been trying to re-frame them: “What can my job be next?” “How can Philanthropy focus more on people?” “What need can I fill now?”

This is because in every organization we have worked with, there has been no shortage of work to be done. We see to-do lists get longer, with new and great ideas being brought-up every staff meeting that are quickly dropped into the “someday” pile – the truly audacious tasks.

Philanthropy has always been about changing the world for the better and technology can help organizations barrel through the “right now” pile, opening the door for them to start pursuing the “someday”pile. Technology affords audacity.


Audacity Requires Human-to-Human Skills

Back in 2011, the Stanford Social Innovation Review released a series of articles and arguments championing Collective Impact. They argue that large problems need large solutions, but at the same time, they must be nimble and adaptive – scale cannot choke the solution from shifting over time. Collective Impact first and foremost requires people, their ability to manage networks and relationships and adapt to changes as they collectively learn.

More recently, HBR covered similar thinking in their article, Audacious Philanthropy. They find that large-scale social change (many championed by philanthropy) often requires the following:

  • Build a shared understanding of the problem and its ecosystem
  • Set “winnable milestones” and hone a compelling message
  • Design approaches that will work at massive scale
  • Drive (rather than assume) demand
  • Embrace course corrections

Initiatives like these require human-to-human skills: negotiation, persuasion, coordination, creative thinking and adaptation – and we’ve heard Grants Managers speak about these concepts in different ways: “I wish I had more time to connect with Grantees,” “I wish I could collaborate more with my peers,” “I wish I knew what others were up to.”

Grants managers express their desire to build relationships.
‍Solving large problems requires great human-to-human relationship-building – exactly the kind of work that grants managers excel at.


Audacity Through Human-Centered Systems

The integration of technology and well-connected digital ecosystems can open the door for this work to happen. Saving time by automating administrative tasks is an obvious start. An important next step for impactful collaboration is the seamless sharing of information and data, pooling the investments in people and projects each grantmaker is making to accelerate learning.

This is why GrantBook continues to champion the push towards more connected products and for grantmakers to demand better integration. Initiatives like Fluxx’s GrantSeeker and Foundant’s GrantHub are examples of strong steps forward, but in our Data Strategy work we see opportunities  for much more.

Census data, tax information, academic surveys, polling information, market trends, etc. are all key sources of insight. But raw data alone is not useful. Information must be contextualized and analyzed by humans to become strategic tools – for better relationship-building, faster decision-making, and more strategic grantmaking.

Data on laptop - photo by Carlos Muza
‍Datafication is another big step in helping grantmakers collaborate to make faster, smarter decisions.

Your Audacious Future Starts with Audacious Questions

A wealth of options and information can be paralyzing, introducing fear of choice and uncertainty. However, what we find unwavering and constant in Grants Managers despite all this, is their desire to do good and seek social change.

So let’s start with what we know: take a look at that “someday” list and start thinking about what it’ll take to tackle these big issues. What training would you need? What does technology need to do? What other skills and people would you want to help out? What information would make decisions easier?

Answer those questions that will help you make your “someday” list a reality. From there, we can start to envision future of work for Grants Managers. 

At the Technology Affinity Group (TAG) Annual Conference this year, GrantBook is eager to continue this conversation  on technology, integrations and the future of work. So if you’d like to reflect on these questions, meet us at TAG 2017 and let’s continue learning together.

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‍Join us at the TAG (Technology Affinity Group) 2017 Annual Conference to talk more about how technology can evolve the future of philanthropy!
James Law's headshot

James Law

Director, Design & Foresight

Director, Design & Foresight

James Law has worked for 10 years in the social finance and social sectors, designing, exploring, and implementing technologies to help organizations activate mission and achieve impact.

He began working in lean non-profits, employing databases and constituent relationship management tools (CRM) to help track and aggregate data for land conservation and environmental protection. Moving into social finance, he managed the development of an application to administer community bonds and equity.

Moving to Grantbook in 2015, James dove head first into helping foundations—of all types—align on digital values, explore technology options, and select the best path forward. From there, he continued to explore solutions architecture and integrations, connecting best-in-class tools to meet the ideal needs of grantmakers, grantees, and all stakeholders. 

More recently James is investing in Grantbook’s use of service design tools—from personas to service blueprints—to increase resilience and reduce the risk of technology planning and adoption via human-centred thinking. He also helps rally and co-ordinate Grantbook’s new ideas and opportunities as philanthropy and technology change.