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Become the Grants Manager of the Future

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

NCG is partnering with the local chapter of the Grants Managers Network (GMN) to host the program Become the Grants Manager of the Future with Sara Davis (SD), Director of Grants Management of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Daniel Weinzveg, an organizational consultant. This event will explore the new role of grants managers, and their importance in grantmaking strategy, ultimately in the relationship to programs and grants success. We had the opportunity to explore this event in conversation with Sara, Dan Gaff (DG), Grants Manager at the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust and Communications Chair of the Northern CA chapter of GMN, and Miriam Williams (MW), the Manager of Membership and Chapter Services at GMN. Here’s what they had to say:

Sara, what drove you to create this programming?

SD: There’s been so much change in the last decade regarding the operational side of grantmaking and the roles and opportunities for people doing this work. As I spoke with people across the sector, I heard a real hunger to better understand the role of Grants Managers as well as other operational positions and how to work most effectively with program staff and grantees. With so many changes in how we do our work and with the increasing emphasis on effective grant practices, there’s an exciting and important need for strong practitioners on the operational side of philanthropy. I saw a window of opportunity for us to get clarity on where things have been and to be creative and innovative about where we are headed.

I understand you’ve delivered this program in other places, how has that gone?

SD: It’s been really exciting to be part of this conversation across the country.  In March, I first led this workshop at the Grants Managers Network Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. and since then have traveled to several of the GMN chapters to lead the conversation with smaller groups. It’s exciting to see the connections participants are making to their own careers and the potential for innovation within their own foundations. I’m also finding that many of the challenges, opportunities and themes we are each handling in isolation, are very similar.  We all are looking for better ways to make an impact and connect with the meaning behind the work.

And what has the response been in those places?

MW: When Sara presented the session at GMN’s Annual Conference, attendees were ecstatic about the information shared on how to be personally engaged in advocating for themselves and how to leverage this position to influence others in the organization.

As you deliver this programming, what do you see evolving from this conversation?

MW: Participants walked away with a renewed sense of commitment and empowerment to take the lead in making a difference in their careers and organizations. 

SD: It’s been important to acknowledge that some of the grant operations roles of the past have shifted and don’t exist in the same way. With new uses of technology, the paper processing and more transactional elements of the work have really decreased dramatically and this trend will continue. At the same time, there is a real hunger in the sector to better understand and use data, to create structures that support learning and sharing information, and to make sure we are connecting the strategic side of grant practice with the skills needed to execute effectively. It’s a huge shift in roles and it requires anyone on the operational side of philanthropy be constantly sharpening their skills while understanding how to add value within their organizations during a time of change. 

Can you share why you’re excited about this program with us?

SD: It’s exciting to be part of a deepening understanding across the sector about the value of effective grants management-we all can do our work better and ultimately have more impact.  There is so much opportunity for us to improve grant practices, streamline, connect more, develop better relationships and make sure we all are working in concert.  I love seeing people connect to this potential and find new meaningful horizons for how they work.

So who do you think should attend this program? It seems like it’s relevant not only to grants managers, but to program staff as well, is that safe to say?

MW: Most certainly grants managers and their staff are prime audiences for the session.  But, since there is no ‘I” in team, all members of the organization have an individual and collective role to play in the future of the profession and toward making a positive impact in the philanthropic sector.  Taking time to explore these possibilities together is a first step toward positive change. 

SD: Yes – I think this conversation is relevant to anyone who is trying to better understand grant practice and how to execute within a grantmaking role effectively.  Sometimes in philanthropy we tend to bifurcate the strategy side from the execution side of grantmaking and not really connect them.  It really is just two sides of the same activity so I can see this conversation being interesting to anyone trying to execute effectively.  Plus it’s great to have other perspectives at the table since we are all creating the future together.

What would you add form the perspective of a grant manager?

DG: One of the nice things about meeting and talking to other grants managers is that we all share a common language and skill set relevant to the particular requirements of the profession and its role in grantmaking. However, because the roles filled by today’s grants managers also vary greatly from organization to organization, every GM I’ve met also has a unique perspective and experience to share.

So, when I saw Sara’s presentation at the GMN national conference in March it really struck a chord with me and underscored the new reality about what grants management is today: a core skill set vital to effective grantmaking, which also continues to grow, expand, and add value in new ways.

Grants managers are not just following this process, though, we’re helping to lead it. In my opinion, Sara has really captured the zeitgeist with “Become the Grants Manager of the Future.” It’s a fun and exciting time to be a GM, and Sara’s inspiring presentation will help GMs (and the non-GM folks they work with) identify, appreciate and put into practice the many opportunities the profession has to offer grantmaking today.

Whether those opportunities are in technology, programs, data, finance, collaboration, effectiveness, impact, or whatever else the future may hold, grants managers are uniquely suited to add value within their organizations and to strengthen the profession, and philanthropy, as a whole.

Is there anything else you think our readers should know?

SD: This is not your typical presentation. Participants will be driving the conversations and focusing on the work and issues most relevant to them. The design of the session creates room for fun while also being thought provoking.  There’s time for laughter and meaning both.  I hope to see you there.

Learn more details about the upcoming program.