by Alf Gracombe, CEO
Last week we gathered with clients and partners for GDConnect 2021, our annual conference. This year was bigger than ever, bringing together more than 150 grants managers, program officers, and philanthropy executives who steer and administer grantmaking for leading foundations in the U.S. and abroad.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, GDConnect 2021 was once again an all-virtual affair. But with the help of an interactive conferencing platform, it was an immersive and highly engaging experience. Attendees heard keynote speakers from the platform’s main stage, and joined their peers for more than a dozen breakout sessions and roundtable discussions dedicated to GivingData features as well as new trends and topics in grantmaking.
Here are some of the major highlights from this year's three-day event on September 28-30, 2021.
Embracing positivity and change
I was delighted to kick off day one with my annual “State of the Union,” which this year focused on adapting to change. It was an opportunity for me to highlight the transformational work taking place in philanthropy writ large, and among our clients in particular.
The work our clients are doing—re-assessing, recalibrating, reacting, and responding—is shining a very strong light on why philanthropy matters. As I pointed out in my opening remarks, “Where other systems and institutions teeter, philanthropy seems to be taking a much more agile and assertive approach to affecting positive change.”
Affecting change was a key theme in our day two keynote, which featured three leading voices in the emerging practice of trust-based philanthropy. Shaady Salehi, Director of the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, underscored the need for trust-based practices to become the norm in philanthropy.
“If we’ve learned anything in the last eighteen months, it’s that we know it is essential to trust and listen to people who are closest to the issues we seek to address,” Shaady said. “If we want to truly tackle these problems and support the growth of communities and nonprofits, then we have to flip the switch and think about this work a little differently.”
She described a “values to practice gap,” wherein funders’ place too much emphasis on transactional relationships, rather than serving as supporters and partners who work in collaboration with grantees. And she challenged grantmakers to rethink how they can work to help their partners remain focused on their work and the impact they are trying to achieve.
“There’s a lot of wisdom that nonprofit and community leaders bring that can help inform the way foundations think and design their strategies because they are closer to the issues we seek to support in philanthropy.”
GivingData Product Spotlight
One of the consistently most popular sessions at GDConnect is “From the Labs,” which spotlights forthcoming product enhancements and new features. GivingData’s principal designer, Breanna Wong, walked attendees through several major enhancements, including:
The Changemaker Experience
A breakout session led by Chantal Forster, executive director of the Technology Association of Grantmakers, highlighted transformational methods grantmakers can use to better understand the grantee experience with an eye toward responsive grantmaking. James Law, director of design and foresight at Grantbook, showcased examples of user experience research from healthcare and higher ed to illustrate how grantmaking organizations can create more responsive systems by using dynamic listening and learning approaches that put their constituents first. As James pointed out, “the changemaker experience is a great framework to understand how we can make relationships between nonprofits and funders smoother, operationalize our trust-based and DEI values, and get better at fostering even greater impact.”
Leveraging Business Intelligence Tools
Rich Carder, learning and evaluation officer at Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, along with data engineer, Kyle Ogilvie, teamed up to highlight ways to leverage third-party business intelligence tools to extend the power of GivingData’s native reporting tools and SuperSearch functionality. Rich demonstrated how WPF has built out a “data pipeline” that allows the foundation to create custom reports looking at cross-sections of grantmaking data across portfolios, geographies, and strategies.
In all, more than a dozen breakout sessions brought grantmakers together to share tips and best practices using GivingData’s super docs, workflows, portfolio management, dockets, scenario planning, and other features to optimize their grants management. DEI topics percolated into conversations, inspired by the Equity Roadmap presentation. Peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing was, as always, one of the highlights of this event and once again reinforced the community’s penchant to collaborate and embrace positive change.
That passion for operationalizing positive change in philanthropy inspires and energizes our team every year, and we’re already primed to start planning GDConnect 2022 in San Francisco. Mark your calendars September 20-22, 2022!
Stay up-to-date on GivingData blog posts, product news, events, and special offers.subscribe