From Humble Beginnings: A look back on GMN history

ursulastewartIn 1991, I was just beginning my career in philanthropy, and I was lost.  I had just taken on a new position and all I knew was that there was going to be lots of filing!  I think they mentioned filing three or four times in the interview.  There had to be more to my job than filing!  I needed to know more about how to be successful in my position and how my role fit into the overall mission of the foundation.  I was fortunate to connect with a newly formed networking group of fellow foundation staff.

As we met informally in New York, we learned more about each other and the challenges we had in our jobs.  Many of us wore the same hat but had different titles in our organizations.  We were collaborating and sharing resources and insights and learning how to be more effective in our roles.  This included conducting the first salary survey so we could have a starting point for salary comparisons.  We were establishing new processes, policies, and procedures within our organizations with the help of one another.  I remember when they put a box of new software on my desk and wished me luck.  Grant tracking software was new to philanthropy in general so we all learned together.  All of this work eventually led to the publication of “Best Practices in Grants Management,” which was a guide that helped to establish some standardization among grant makers.

As a group, we soon realized that we had people from all over the country attending our monthly meetings.  We knew then that our organization needed to expand to the national level.  The collaboration and networking that was taking place was invaluable and we knew we were creating a vital collection of knowledge base resources.  As membership grew, so did the role of the grants manager.

I’ve seen the role of the grants manager evolve first hand.  We are moving beyond traditional networking and becoming influencers of organizational impact.  We are continually addressing how the work we do affects an organization’s ability to meet its mission.  We are coming out of the back office and are the inspired change makers leading our organizations into the 21st Century.

The field of philanthropy is continually evolving and adapting, causing our members to do the same.  Our members embrace change as an opportunity to enhance their organizational roles.  The field utilizes our resources and network as a trusted and respected resource; a resource that supports them and gives them confidence in their decision making.  Members utilize our experts to give a voice to change and advocate to leadership with confidence.  We serve as the leaping off point for it all by providing the platform that motivates continuous improvement and facilitates collaboration.

As I look back at our humble beginnings, I am proud to see where we are today.  Having served as a Member Ambassador during the national rollout and a national meeting co-chair, I have had an insider’s view of the vision that carries us into tomorrow. Together we can help others step up to challenges, we can be the voice for all organizations, and we can monitor the activities of others in our industry.  I can honestly say that I am extremely excited about what the future holds and I am glad to be a part of such an amazing organization.

Ursula Stewart

Ursula Stewart is Senior Grants Associate & System Administrator at the New York State Health Foundation. She has been an active volunteer and advocate for GMN since it's inception in 1991.