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Blur the Lines, Sharpen the Work

Thursday, July 9, 2015

NCG Board Member Sara Davis, Director of Grants Management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation collaboratively authored Blur the Lines, Sharpen the Work with Jessica Bearman of Bearman Consulting and Marc McDonald, Director of Grants Management at the AARP Foundation on the future of grants management. 

One of the great challenges in any organization, and one that reaches across all sectors is making sure the ideas and vision of the organization are in sync with the practices and operations needed to implement them well. Philanthropy is no different. Grantmaking practice is the “how” of grantmaking: decisions about how grants are structured and deployed, application and reporting processes, systems and requirements, and all the many explicit or tacit assumptions about what combination of grantees and grant structures make up a successful portfolio. Although not often described this way, practices are the most public and direct expression of what a grantmaker values. They are the first — and often the only — thing that the community sees of the funder. For all of these reasons, grantmakers can learn and strengthen their work by bringing together the two sides of their “brain” — grantmaking programs and grantmaking operations — more explicitly.

In a sector without much external feedback and where the work is lauded as an act of benevolence, it can be hard to devote much energy to considering the question of whether how we’re doing our work is as effective and high-impact as other strategic elements such as who and what we fund. But for those funders concerned with learning more about our work and growing the impact of what we do with (relatively) limited funds, it’s well worth consideration.