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Tech Tales: NCG Family Philanthropy Forum Highlight

Monday, April 1, 2013

On Friday, March 29, 2013, NCG’s Family Philanthropy Exchange members gathered at Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund’s office in San Francisco to share technology tools at the first-ever “Tech Tales.” Part of NCG’s Family Philanthropy Forum, the program was designed to give members the opportunity to learn from each other, share their “tech tales,” and exchange best practices for choosing and using grants management software and other technology for small family foundations with limited staff.

The following are tips and helpful tech information offered to help make life easier and more efficient for foundations with limited staff capacity (i.e. for an office of one):

Looking to move to a new technology tool?

For grantmakers looking to move to a new technology tool, presenter Marc Manashil of 11Plus recommended that funders keep the following in mind:

  • Know Your Own Capacity: If the functionality (all the features of the tool) is greater than your own capacity to utilize it then it’s likely not a good fit considering that you won’t have the time and or ability to take advantage of all it offers.
  • Staying Power of the Technology: Has the tool/product/service been around for a good number of years? Have they worked out all the bugs? Are there a good number of current users? Are those users getting the support they need?
  • Apply Technology to Technology Issues: Sometimes people look to technology to solve programs that are not technical issues. In other words, technology cannot fix relationship issues within an organization. Don’t spend time and resources on a technology tool if in reality the problem you are trying to solve is a relationship issue.

Can I join the Grants Managers Network if I’m not a grant’s manager?

Any person currently employed by a grantmaking organization who holds responsibility for grants management or a portion of grants management activities is eligible for membership.

NCG Member Tiffany Price, who in addition to being the Director of Assistance & Advising at the Mitchell Kapor Foundation is also on the national board of the Grants Managers Network (GMN), explained how she takes advantage of the GMN network. In her presentation, Tiffany explained that a Grants Manager title isn’t requisite to join GMN. After all, many small and family foundation staff do it all. So anyone who has the responsibility of managing grants can join.

Moving to an online grants management system or considering a new system?

One member who recently switched to a new grants management system shared the following insights when considering a new system:

  • Does the system have regular updates? Are they easy to install?
  • Is the vendor willing to tweak, i.e. reports or forms? Are those tweaks free or costly?
  • How long is the contract term? How long will you be locked into using this product?
  • When your contract is up and you want to migrate your data to another system, will they charge you? How much?
  • Know exactly what you want out of a system and the application process so that there are no surprise costs for adding on later.
  • Will training be easy? Is it just you or your entire staff that will need to be trained?
  • Finally, ask for references so you can talk to people currently using the system.

What about other cost-efficient tech tools?

Dana Marus, Director of the High Engagement and Education by Nature Projects for the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation shared the following tools:

  • A secure way to store, organize, and share your files, such as board docket materials.
  • An online software training site.

As the program ended members were left with one last thought: In the long run, it’s not about technology. It’s about how you do your work. What audience you are serving. Once you know that, then find the technology that supports those needs.

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