The Dawn of Grantmaking Informatics

Abundant among the excitement for big data and its revolutionizing of many sectors, including philanthropy, are more distinct issues like privacy, prediction, and production. One issue that is surfacing is the perceived talent gap; with big data becoming a big deal, practitioners and pundits alike wonder who will lead the “informatics” movement.

The term “informatics” encompasses the collection, classification, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of recorded knowledge.  It is making the leap from the science and medical worlds to many other disciplines to express the need for people with a multidisciplinary skill set who can turn data and information into actionable knowledge.  Knowledge that grantmakers can use to strengthen strategy and increase their philanthropic impact.

Philanthropy is fortunate to have untapped potential already positioned to use the vast store of data it has amassed: grants management professionals.

Grants managers have been serving as data managers since the beginning of grantmaking. Whatever data has existed, be it big or little, has been managed, maintained, and manipulated by those in charge of grant operations. Technology has brought efficiencies to the grantmaking process, allowing grants managers to move beyond data management into a whole new level of value-added work which combines their technological, analytical, and communications skills.  We see this reflected in emerging job titles like Knowledge Resources Manager, Data Analytics Manager, Chief Information Officer, Grants Information Analyst, and Information Strategist.

Philanthropy thought-leader Lucy Bernholz recognizes this critical role and the ability of grants managers to take up the mantle of big data:

 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. They’d be let loose to map, crunch, remix public data sets, peer data sets, industry data sets that would be used by program officers to develop their funding strategies. Grants management isn’t just compliance, its strategy and learning.

I’d define this new role as…

 Grantmaking informatics is a specialty that focuses on gathering, organizing, analyzing and sharing data, information, and the resulting knowledge to improve philanthropic impact.

Sharing will be critical.  Grantmakers who continue to develop grantmaking strategies, make grant decisions, and assess their impact in a bubble of self-generated information will find themselves left behind this field-wide push to maximize the impact of philanthropic investments.

GMN is committed to supporting its members as their roles evolve from data trackers to knowledge interpreters and their organizations as the building blocks (e.g., coding standards) and mechanisms (e.g., Foundation Center reporting commitment) are developed to faciliate data sharing.

Michelle Greanias

Michelle Greanias is executive director of PEAK Grantmaking. Follow her on Twitter @mgreanias.