Successful Structures: Rethinking the Role of Grants Management

Effective grantmaking organizations deliberately connect the “how” of grantmaking to strategy and impact. In these organizations, the practices, processes, and systems that get money out the door to support important work in communities are informed, assessed, and strengthened using timely data about grantmaking effectiveness. In these organizations, thoughtful conversations about how to make grants most effectively are everyone’s business: programs, operations, finance, and executive staff work together to analyze and improve grantmaking practice.

“We are not the do-ers, we are the fund-ers. Our role is not to change the world, it is to make grants that help others change the world. So if our unique contribution is grantmaking, how we make grants must be just as strategic, just as focused on outcomes, as anything else we do.”Mandy Ellerton, Community Innovation Director, Bush Foundation

Today – and even more so, in the future – the role of grants manager is shifting to meet the needs of the 21st century foundation. Grants managers are perfecting the due-diligence, record-keeping, monitoring, and customer service elements of their work while embracing new roles as process specialists, data analysts, relationship experts, troubleshooters, and quality control officers. Many serve on the front lines of organizational learning and strategy. As foundations adapt and expand grants management – while preserving critical aspects of its traditional function – a number of foundations have created successful structures to scaffold this shift.

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Blue Shield of California Foundation: Using Grants Management to Amplify Organizational Impact

“We see grants management as critical to the integration of our work. They need to lead the analytics. The role becomes the hub of the organization – not just a transactional piece.” Peter Long, President & CEO, Blue Shield of California Foundation


Bush Foundation: Grants Management at the Intersection of Optimism and Impact

“As a field we can lack self-awareness; so many Foundations do not understand the philanthropic role. We are not the do-ers, we are the fund-ers. Our role is not to change the world, it is to make grants that help others change the world. So if our unique contribution is grantmaking, how we make grants must be just as strategic, just as focused on outcomes, as anything else we do.” Program Director Mandy Ellerton


AARP Foundation: Grants Management at the Intersection of Culture and Impact

“Everything we do is designed with the specific goal of increasing collaboration. Our leadership team set that goal, but grants management has had to step up and show that we could collaborate in ways that help the whole organization work better.” Marc McDonald, Director of Grants Management


Hill-Snowdon Foundation: Small But Mighty: Exercising Out-Sized Influence

“To create a just and fair society, we must be accountable to and serve practitioners. As a funder, we can’t always know what best practice is; the only way to learn is to be in service. So, this drives our work—all our work, from our own investments, to collaboration with other foundations, to grants management. To support best practice on-the-ground, we must be in service to the groups with whom we partner.” Nat Williams, Executive Director, Hill-Snowdon Foundation