Take the Lead: Searching for the Right Direction

“Grants Managers have a chance to change philanthropy”

Philanthropy is the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people (Merriam-Webster dictionary), etymologically love for humankind. Giving is an intrinsic value that all human being share. Being new in the philanthropic sector, my admiration grew for the shared desire of making the world a better place, the sense of justice and equality, and the great generosity of many. I become curious to look deeper into philanthropy [philosophy, approach, fundamentals, and implementation] like many, with the hope of contributing to the advancement of the sector. This same search for direction led me to joining GMN and attending my first conference in New Orleans.

While giving may be natural, it is important to have some degree of rationality in the decision we make regarding the philanthropy dollars and ensure effectiveness and lasting results. Grants Management establishes the framework, methods, and principles and direction for giving. Grants management is Philanthropy’s right hand. It is the centerpiece that makes effective giving possible using processes while also balancing intent (of funders), the goal for change, and the reality of needs. Giving is no longer just giving but it’s the “giving rightfully” – the right way, in the right measure, to the right people, for the right cause, at the right time, and to the right place. Now, have the philanthropic sector and grant managers really done it right?

The GMN conference has helped deepen ourselves into more reflections and with the search for direction for our grantmaking practices. The general consensus was clear, grants management and operations professionals are leading the evolution of philanthropy, taking the lead on changes that improve grantmaking. We were all searching for direction to continuing to take the lead within our organizations and the field. We were looking for the right answers to questions we long have, the right inspiration and motivation, the right information as to how to make data-driven/evidence based decisions, the right professional connections, the right partnerships and collaborations, the right tools to increase effectiveness and streamline processes, the standards and values enlightening our professions and so on. The quests for the “right” and the “best” are commendable. It demonstrates grants managers’ commitment to excellence, service, and real change in the world.

Even if everyone did not find everything right item in their bucket list, the time was right! – The time was right to connect and mingle with peers and motivate each other; reflect on our work; share, and learn about best and effective techniques and practices in the field of grants management; grants management systems, tools, and software; Impact and outcomes evaluation; Knowledge transfer, compliance methods and practices; corporate philanthropy; transparency; etc. —- Working and supporting grassroots and community based organizations worldwide through my work at One World Children’s Fund is right but it feels more right being connected and equipped with the necessary tools, the knowledge and to the upright network.

Just when I felt had some directions, Dr. Albert Ruesga shared his thoughtful examination of the roles, achievements, and failures of the philanthropic sector-foundations. There is no doubt that philanthropy has played major roles in bringing significant changes in our societies. We know our achievements; we measure these successes and continue to contribute through our hard work daily.  However, I particularly embraced some of the 22 theses that were the most provoking and that really brought up the question related to whether or not we have done grantmaking “right” for a second time. The obstacles and failures of the philanthropic sector should be of great importance to all change practitioners, donors, and foundations and even nonprofits. Among others, the following three astonished me most and based on my assessment they are essential for the success and advancement of philanthropy.

  1. “Collectively foundations have failed to address some of the most basic injustices in our society.”
  2. Foundations lip sync collaboration and then go back to their silo because of too much ego.
  3. Foundations tend to reinvent the wheel rather than building upon existing efforts, and generally are unaware of how to truly relate to the people and communities that they aim to serve.

These failures derived to the current views and approaches to philanthropic activities: responsive rather than proactive philanthropy; Top-down (funders sole intent) rather than value/mission centered and participatory and flexible to actual needs; collective impact through partnership and collaboration rather than DIY smaller scale results? Trusting people and community leadership vs imposing own solutions even with its inadequacies?

With grants management focuses on executing and improving processes, unfortunately, more effective grantmaking practices, systems, and operations is unlikely to address the gap between the philosophy of action and the action themselves.

The failures, obstacles and the answers to these questions is where I see opportunity to find the right direction to take the lead in our organizations. Taking the lead is beyond establishing clear internal understanding of the importance of grants management or making sure organizations have the best grantmaking processes and policies. Grants Managers must use their expertise to fuel change at upper levels within organizations to help innovate and reinvent what the status quo should be in the philanthropic sector. Organizational philanthropic approaches MUST be reassessed if we want to be in the forefront of tackling the biggest social, political, economic, environmental issues in our world.

Grants managers have the chance to help change philanthropy and really do it right. Will you take the lead?




Meschac Gervais

Meschac Gervais, a native of Haiti, is the Program Manager of One World Children’s Fund, an international organization based in San Francisco that supports effective grassroots/community-based organizations serving children globally. Meschac manages One World programs and implements the organization's partnership and community building for fifty grassroots partners from 26 countries and assists a group of 80+ individual “Champions” through resource mobilizations and capacity building training. Meschac is a member of GMN and currently serves as the GMN Northern California Regional Vice-Chair. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

One Response

  1. David Goodman, PhD says:

    Nicely said, Meschac. I would add that the points that you make and the questions you have posed are exactly why foundations and nonprofits must engage in evaluation – not just impact assessments, but evaluation of their processes, their structures, and their grants. Working with a qualified researcher / evaluator to examine data and a conduct analyses can provide incredible insights and information to inform the grant making process, to enhance program strategies, and achieve a meaningful and appropriate impact. Grant managers, however, are key to this relationship, for their knowledge of programs, grantees, contexts, and the broader community ensure that the correct data are collected, appropriate measures are used, and meaningful analyses are conducted. Grant managers ARE the true evaluators and they hold the key to addressing the important questions and challenges you have presented.

Leave a Reply