Now more than ever, connecting online is essential for grants professionals. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our communities, including PEAK chapters and the organizers behind our annual conference, to rethink how we gather.
Luckily, our communities have been leveraging the internet as a place to gather since long before the coronavirus forced the United States into quarantine in 2020. We began online conversations almost 20 years ago, at a time when social media and social networking platforms were still in their infancy.
We started with the Group Intelligence on Grantmaking Information, or, as many of our members will remember…GIGI.
How We Formed Our Online Community
In the early 2000s, our members had a limited number of ways to connect with one another outside of in-person meetings. Jamie Amagai, director of grants management for The Summit Charitable Foundation and former GIGI administrator, remembers when we relied on listservs to disseminate information. “We knew we wanted more than that, but we didn’t quite know how to go about it because it was going to cost money,” said Jamie. As a growing network, we knew we were going to have to evolve—we couldn’t rely on listservs and emails forever—but there was no alternative available.
We quickly realized we would need to build a place where we could share information.
Former PEAK Executive Director Michelle Greanias started looking at options. “Facebook existed at the time, but it was … still a college kid thing,” she recalls. “But there was this sort of growing thing where people said, ‘Hey, you could have an online community, and wouldn’t that make everything so much easier?’” Michelle saw an opportunity to carve out space on the internet for PEAK members and turned to the Fannie Mae Foundation, where she was serving as Managing Director, to help fund the project. With a plan and funding in place, our board gave the idea a shot.
In 2002, we launched our first online community—GIGI. The online portal allowed members to open threads, post questions, respond to other members’ queries, and upload documents and resources. Members could also use the portal’s search function, which is still widely used today, to find topics relevant to their interests. “It just came from a place that was actually forward-reaching technology at the time. And we were able to kind of test it out and try it,” said Michelle.
Fun fact: Between 2004 and 2009, GIGI membership grew from 728 to 1,395 registered users. Visitors to the site uploaded dozens of files per month. Since CONNECT was launched back in 2016, more than 1,000 documents have been shared by members!
As we entered a new decade, we continued to iterate. In 2014, we launched the MY GMN (Grants Managers Network) online portal. The reimagined website included discussion forums, a knowledge database, postings for job openings, and a directory of our network’s members. The new portal was a precursor to our CONNECT platform, which launched in 2016.
Still Making Connections
The CONNECT online forum our members participate in today builds on GIGI’s legacy while offering new and improved ways to collaborate online and advance the Learn, Share, Evolve Principle for PEAK Grantmaking. The platform features a rich member resource of discussion threads, shared samples and templates, and individual libraries of members’ favorite assets. Along with the popular Open Forum community which includes all members, CONNECT is also a one-stop place to connect with colleagues in regional chapters, affinity groups, and our communities of practice.
Behind all of the new CONNECT features lies the premise behind the original idea. “The whole point was to get people feeling like they belonged to this organization,” said Jamie. We all want to find people we can call on in a pinch—people who we know and trust to help us find solutions to the challenges we face as grants professionals. We find those people when we CONNECT.