A very enthusiastic staff at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy has recently re-launched LearnPhilanthropy.org (LP) with some dazzling new features. The site’s Philanthropy Ecosystem provides a Directory of 200 organizations that form philanthropy’s infrastructure, research, and networking platforms. LP’s Knowledge Library now holds over 600 learning resources carefully catalogued by 50 of the sector’s leading content providers. A single search field will yield resources from across the LP site, or you can browse resources using the site’s Real Simple Taxonomy. Original content now includes webinars, expert advice, and quick-read Learning Briefs on specific topics or career stages – especially for newcomers.
More than just another website, LearnPhilanthropy (LP) is a carefully developed response to a field-wide call for more organized access to learning resources. Jean McCall, HR Director at the Hewlett Foundation and co-chair of LP’s Advisory Board believes “We have finally come to understand that there is a real need for ongoing learning, and for helping people become more sophisticated and effective as funders by providing tools to support this.”Although some academic institutions such as the Johnson Center are beginning to focus on philanthropy as a professional field, there are no fixed career paths or staffing structures, no magic grantmaking formula to follow, and no single source of information. Flexible and individualized learning plans are becoming crucial at all levels of the modern knowledge workforce… and LP is designed to help you in this new reality.
Dr. Michael Moody, Frey Chair for Family Philanthropy at Grand Valley, led the Johnson Center team that managed LP’s transition from its incubation period to its recent re-launch. According to Michael, “There are a lot of good resources and useful sources for learning in the grantmaking field, but they have always been pretty segmented and scattered. The work of finding the right resources has mostly been left to individuals, forcing them to search around on their own, wade through long lists of options, and/or just go with whatever they happen to be exposed to or hear about. LearnPhilanthropy helps make this learning process and search easier by providing a first-stop, reliable place to find resources from the most trusted organizations and peers in the field.” But building a hub for easier access to quality learning resources was only the first step.
Maintenance of the LP collection is a shared effort. Content Partners use a custom portal to annotate each resource with a brief description, tag it according to the shared taxonomy, and add a link to their own website for users who want to engage further. Jen Bokoff, Director of GrantCraft.org, a service of Foundation Center, and a member of LP’s Advisory Board says “Practitioners want quick answers to issues or problems that they encounter on a day to day basis. There is less time to regularly scan the landscape and to keep up with new stories and tools in the field, so people rely on their trusted networks and sector-building organizations to curate accessible, targeted content.” Not only do Content Partners get to showcase their best learning resources to new audiences, the shared presence of these resources may offer opportunities to identify content gaps and stimulate collective discussions around improving the effectiveness of professional learning methods and mediums.
So how about some “shopping tips” for grants managers who are looking to learn? Sara Davis, GMN Board Member and Director of Grants Management at the Hewlett Foundation believes “Grants managers – more than ever – need to be thinking beyond historical roles and boundaries to make sure they are adding value in their organizations.” Jen Bokoff suggests learning quantitative and qualitative data analysis in order to better frame and explore strategic questions, adding that “Leadership comes from all levels, and any learning plan should involve asking strategic questions based in your foundation’s reality.” And Michael Moody adds “Read widely and look often for new sources of learning you haven’t considered before – don’t become too reliant on a single source.” This advice highlights the unique leadership potential that the grants manager has at the intersections of program, finance, systems, procedures, grantee relationships…and data!
Opportunities for improvement can often be found somewhere in between job roles, organizations, bodies of knowledge, and the typical circles of conversation. If you think you’ve mastered all parts of your job description, then a broader awareness of other perspectives can help you tactfully bridge silos or frame your role in new and exciting ways. And a well-thought out plan will help align your learning goals with organizational strategy. Jean McCall advises that “Any grantmaking learning plan needs to be designed in concert with and with input from the person or department responsible for program staff and legal training, as they are inextricably linked.” If you coordinate your goals with colleagues, your team’s efforts will more likely be in the sweet spot for discovering new practices that could inform tomorrow’s learning resources.
LearnPhilanthropy is all set to work in tandem with GMN’s new learning program and member portal. So the next time you go online shopping, fill your basket with some goodies to support your learning goals for the new year. And refer any current or new colleagues to LearnPhilanthropy.org for an organized immersion into philanthropy’s finest learning resources. Comment here (or on Twitter @fieldwidehub) to share your thoughts about the new LP site or any learning goals you may need help with.
(LearnPhilanthropy is now part of the newly formed Institute for Foundation and Donor Learning, which will be led by Dr. Teri Behrens. This permanent home positions LP alongside The Grantmaking School and the peer-reviewed journal, The Foundation Review. LearnPhilanthropy is pleased to acknowledge generous support from the Mott, Packard, Kresge, and Hewlett Foundations.)