The Big Picture: More Systems, More Questions (Part I)

A large portion of our jobs entails managing information. As technology evolves we are finding opportunities to use technology to streamline how we manage and utilize the information we capture. In the past five years the marketplace of grants management systems has exploded and leaves many of us wondering, is our current system the best system for us?

Before deciding to make the move to a new system, there are many questions that need to be answered and evaluated. I have heard time and again

  • “I’m thinking of moving to ‘X’ system because everyone else seems to be using it”,
  • “’Y’ system promises a solution to all of my current problems”,
  • “System Z is online and we need to be online”

Sound familiar? If so, keep reading.

Since the beginning of our careers we, grants managers, have used some sort of system to organize and analyze our grantmaking programs. Some of us use paper files and a rolodex. Others have always had the trendiest grants management system for our foundation type.  At the end of the day we all have a system and considering a system migration is not something to take lightly. This is your chance to find something that is the right fit for your organization’s culture and what you anticipate your grantmaking will look like for at least the next five to ten years.

How do I know what works best for my organization?

Only you and your colleagues know the answer to that question. Identifying what works now is not the same as what could work better. Some organization’s choose to stay with a certain process or system because “it’s always been done that way”.

This blog is not here to judge your decision. If what has always worked for you still works for your organization and grantees – why change it? There is nothing wrong with a paper or online system, as long as your organization is comfortable with the consequences your system has on your team and grantees.

Chances are you’re not reading this blog because everything is copacetic. You’re reading this because you have a system and believe there is room for improvement. So, what do you do? I suggest the first action step you take is REFLECT INTERNALLY.

Huh? Reflect internally? You mean meditate?

No, well maybe, it depends on your personality.

What I mean is, take a moment to remove yourself from your daily processes and consider what could work better. Consider asking your colleagues and some grantees to join you in this reflection stage, you may be surprised that what you think is frustrating actually helps them.

If you choose to reflect, remember to keep your eye on the big picture. This process is meant to help you determine:

  • Why are you doing what you’re currently doing?
  • How does your current system affect your organization’s culture and capacity?
  • What works well?
  • What doesn’t work?
  • Are there any gaps or missed opportunities?
  • Is there potential to go from “good to great”?

The next post will focus on framing this reflective conversation with your colleagues and grant partners.

Can’t wait for the next post? If you are attending the 2016 GMN Conference and are thinking of migrating to new system, please register for the Block B session “Migrating to a New Grants Management System? It’s Not the Product or the Vendor You Should Worry About.”  I designed this program with a group of awesome colleagues in the field with amazing brain power. We all work on different systems but this session is meant to demonstrate the various ways you can approach a project of this size. Because, let’s face it, there is no “one-size fits all” approach or system.

Like always, please share any questions, tips or strategies you’ve used to reflect in the comments section below.



Nadia Alia

Nadia Alia is manager of grants and communications at The Tow Foundation where her responsibilities include: managing grantee relations; playing a leadership role as the system administrator for their online database; and, implementing The Foundation’s communication strategy. She is a member of Grants Managers Network and currently serves on the New York Chapter’s program committee.

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