Peek Inside a GMN Regional Meeting

Contributed by Susan Clark, Midwest region member, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Chicago

The entrance to the Kresge Foundation (@kresgefdn) is through an old farmhouse. It’s a historic gateway into its modern, LEED certified offices, surrounded by a grassy embankment and a storm water capture pond teeming with fish. It was in this beautiful space that the GMN Midwest Regional Chapter of had its spring meeting.

In the morning, Teri Behrens & Erica Curry VanEe from The Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University (@johnsoncenter) talked to us about grant monitoring and evaluation. There are many ways to monitor — logic models, etc. — but the key is that evaluation is the collection and analysis of data in order to make decisions about long terms strategies and goals.

After some participants gave examples of unexpected or even negative results of their foundations’  evaluation, we talked about finding the “wins” within evaluation, even when results are unexpected, and sharing those with board, grantees, and other stakeholders. We also talked about how we’re all doing evaluation at our individual foundations, and to be cognizant of working collaboratively with other foundations and grants managers to remove the silos of all our work.

Kim Blanchard from Wellspring Advisors presented New Roles in Grants Management. We, as grants managers, are excellently situated to increase contributions to our organizations and philanthropy as a whole because of the skills we bring to our work: both detail AND big picture thinking, analytic capacity, relationship management, communications, and technology. Lucy Bernholz (@p2173), a philanthropy blogger, recognizes this value and posted this thought: “If foundations really valued data as an input, they’d rethink their grants management departments. These data experts wouldn’t just deal with compliance issues, they’d be unleashed on relevant external data sets that matter to the foundation’s program strategies.”

Given those skills, here are some areas in which we could expand our roles: process development, data management, capacity building, data manipulation, and storytelling. To expand our skills we should continue to participate in GMN and other affinity groups, and initiative discussions with staff outside grants management to talk about trends, issues, and ideas.

During lunch, we split into two groups to network and talk more about evaluation and professional development.

Rebecca Smith from The Kresge Foundation, Cherie Clements from W.K. Kellogg Foundation (@WK_Kellogg_Fdn), and Susan Clark from Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation (@GDDonnelley) kept everyone awake during the after lunch slot with our dashboard examples. Kresge’s provides dynamic, real-time grants data, built on the GivingData platform. Kellogg’s is real-time tracking of its grants process, and is integrated into Sharepoint. Donnelley’s is external data collected and displayed in Excel.

The keys to dashboard success are having easy-to-collect data; collaboration between all staff and/or departments; and, if you’re using internal data, clean coding.

Finally Todd Lapin of Smart Simple (@SmartSimpleSaaS) talked about how to go about selecting a software vendor. The key takeaway from his presentation was in the search for a new vendor that your job is to clearly articulate the goals of your organization, and that the right vendor should be able to say how it can help you achieve those goals.

Many thanks to Genise Singleton and others from The Kresge Foundation for hosting this spring meeting!

Guest Blogger

GMN welcomes blog posts from members, colleagues from peer organizations, thought leaders, and others in the philanthropy sector. Contact Nikki Powell at