By Taylor Ansley
I wrote previously about a session at COF 2008 that I found to be chock full of extremely practical, sensible, and desperately needed improvements in the unwieldy processes of many (most?) foundations. The session I want to talk about today (Wired Philanthropy: Information Age Tools and Technology By and For Grantmakers) was similarly useful, and should provide a number of concrete examples and strategies for my fellow grantmakers to consider.
Gavin Clabaugh, CIO of the Mott Foundation, moderated the panel and offered some context for attendees who were less aware of Web 2.0. In comparison to many foundations, Clabaugh pointed out, Web 2.0 tools—social networking, interactive sharing, blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, etc—are: personal, fast paced, cross-functional (or convergent), and informal (sometimes to the brink of anarchy).
Clabaugh capped his remarks with one example of a Web 2.0 tool that is used by a small (but growing) group of funders: Grantsfire, “an aggregator of syndicated grants information” that “allows grantseekers and funders to search for and aggregate information about grants in real time.”
Amy Luckey from Blueprint Research and Design pointed out a number of examples of foundations using technology well, including:
- An internal Hewlett Foundation mash-up of grants data from grants management software and Google Maps, creating an interactive map of the Foundation’s grantees
- The Skoll Foundation’s online eligibility quiz [I would add that the Meyer Foundation, among others, also incorporates an eligibility quiz]
- The Mott Foundation’s searchable grants database
- A personal favorite, the Packard Foundation’s wiki on nitrogen pollution and agriculture strategy
As mentioned recently on this blog, Amy and the rest of the Blueprint team’s work and thinking on these tools can be found on the Publications page of their website, as well as on Lucy Bernholz’ excellent blog.
Marc Osten, from Summit Collaborative, offered advice for those in the room who are facing an uphill battle bringing technology into their organizational culture OR are simply unaware of how to get started using these tools. First, he warned that getting caught up in specific tools (“We need a blog!”) without first carefully considering your organization’s goals—and what tools might help accomplish those goals—is a recipe for failure. This is a point that I think deserves highlighting, because it’s the reason (for example) that so many organizational blogs are launched with enthusiasm and then updated once a month or less. All the while, those (limited) resources could be more useful if deployed on other tools that better address the needs of the organization.
Marc emphasized experimentation as the best way to figure out how to incorporate new technology into an organization. His tips for experimentation:
- Find places to build off existing activity in the organization, and start small on a scale that’s doable
- Set questions to answer, and goals, prior to launching an experiment
- Take time to process any learning that results from the experiment, and open up discussion to receive feedback from across the organization (and beyond, in some cases)
Marc provides a number of additional resources on this topic here.
The final presenter was Laura Efurd of ZeroDivide, a California foundation. She explained how her organization is using “in the cloud” software platform Force.com as their customized grants management software. [Another “cloud” program for grants management (I’m sure there are others) is PhilanTech]. She stressed the advantages of cloud computing for grantmakers:
- Grantee information is available to program officers anytime, anywhere;
- One database stores all elements of a grantee’s application, payment details, reports, and staff analysis
- Information is stored on external (secure) servers
As you can tell by my extensive re-cap, this was an excellent panel. I left the room inspired, and wanted to share the valuable info with all of you grantmakers reading Tactical Philanthropy.
As a final side-note, let me just say how wonderful it was to walk away from a conference session with NO ADDITIONAL PAPER than when I walked in. The organizers of this tech-focused presentation wisely elected to supply attendees with a USB flash drive full of materials covered by the presenters, and a web address for more information. Many thanks.