In preparing for the closing plenary of our 2015 conference, “The Long View—Grants Management Ten Years From Now”, I pulled out my crystal ball to identify some predictions and possibilities for grants management in the next decade. These predictions are all rooted in emerging trends in the profession that I think have the possibility to accelerate to standards and norms in the not-too-distant future.
What did I miss? How do you think today’s trends will play out? What additional trends are you seeing and how might they impact the profession?
Grants Managers Shed Their “Tight Suit.” Technology automates process and compliance. The applications and reports we use today are obsolete with funders learning about organizations and evaluating their impact through shared data sources. This will accelerate the shift of grants managers towards the center of information, learning, and knowledge at their organizations. This “breaks” the assembly line approach of traditional philanthropy where the grants manager receives the proposal, hands it to the program officer to make a recommendation, who hands it to the CEO or board for approval into a world where the lines between functions are blurred. Grants management will outgrow its traditional administrative role and collaborate as equal partners in making grants successful. This is also going to make it very difficult to define “grants management” or “program” or “communications” or “technology” as everyone working in grantmaking will need to understand and value all components.
Walls Are Replaced by Windows. The value of that access to shared data will bring to making smarter decisions and realizing better grant outcomes eclipses grantmaker concerns over sharing information. Transparency is the new norm. Our new challenges will be moving beyond data that is easy to count to understanding and sharing the full story of what a grant accomplished.
Focus on Permanent Solutions. And a single grant won’t accomplish much. Funders will focus on permanent solutions to problems rather than funding interventions or patches. Permanent solutions take time so we will make fewer, but longer term commitments to grantees with the grants manager role focused on monitoring and grantee support vs. making the next new cycle of grants. New issues will arise on addressing non-performing grantees in this environment. There will be more failed grants as the search for permanent solutions requires more risk taking and appreciation for ambiguity and uncertainty because if we’d found the solution already, the problems would be solved. Collective impact and collaboration will be the norm with funders pooling together to solve problems. The grants management role shifts to partnership management.
And those partners will change.
Changing Face of Philanthropy. Crowdfunding, microlending, and increased information on nonprofits is allowing individuals to participate in giving in new ways, outside of the traditional foundation. Generational wealth transfer will give rise to a new generation of philanthropists that aren’t going to create foundations the way their ancestors did, perhaps taking a more venture capital approach. Funders are looking for different ways to do philanthropy—PRIs, LLCs, social impact bonds, social entrepreneurship, etc. so grants managers will become “investment” experts as the days of vanilla, one-year grants come to an end. Borders disappear: International giving is on the rise and cross-border giving, including foreign funders funding in US, will continue to rise.
Politics. To pursue permanent solutions, there will be more philanthropic dollars going into policy change and into politics. There are more c4 funders and other politically focused funds. This is a new area and will need an expanded expertise from the profession both in how to make these investments, but how to structure and determine the results of this type of grantmaking.
Tax reform is coming and will impact how grants get made. We need to be active participants in those discussions to advocate for change that makes sense. Grants managers will act as equal partners with the other players in compliance work like legal advisors, accountants, and auditors, not as subordinates who take direction from them.
I don’t know if the trends of today will result in this potential future, but one thing I am certain about is that grants managers need to hone their skills and focus on creating and enabling change, not maintaining the status quo. Or someone else will step into that role and leave us behind.