5 Foundation Roles Your Grants Management System Should Support

It's been nearly four decades since the first generation of grants management software hit the market. In 1985, MicroEdge Gifts came on 5 1/4-inch floppy disks. The few systems in existence were text-based, slow, and by today's standards, anything but user-friendly.

They were also designed almost exclusively for one end user – a foundation grants administrator. 

In 2024, that model is as obsolete as the floppy disk itself, yet it remains stubbornly pervasive. Many foundations continue to operate as if a GMS is to a grants manager what QuickBooks is to an accountant – a single-purpose application built with one role in mind. 

That’s not to say the sector hasn’t made gains. More grantmakers today have access to a grants management system than at any time in the history of philanthropy. And these systems are now accessible not only to grants managers but to others across the foundation who engage in the grantmaking process – from program officers and finance staff to senior executives and trustees. 

Despite the progress, a lot of grantmakers tell us that their challenge today is different. It’s less about how to get their staff access to a GMS, and more about adoption, i.e., making sure it’s integrated effectively into everybody’s day-to-day work. 

Having tackled this challenge with hundreds of grantmakers, we know that access alone isn’t enough. Getting a GMS used across the organization requires a willingness to rethink how programs, finance, operations, and executive staff can work together to strengthen the foundation’s grantmaking processes and practices. 

According to PEAK Grantmaking, ninety percent of staff and leaders from grantmakers of all sizes believe that the grantmaking process and structure significantly impact the ultimate success of a grant. A grant management system sits at the center of that process. When it’s used by people across the foundation, it can help drive the success of the organization’s grantmaking.

Whether you’re a lean family foundation looking to implement a GMS for the first time, or a large private funder looking to replace an outdated legacy system, it’s more essential than ever that you have a system that can empower people in these five roles. 

Program Staff

Program officers manage budgets, identify potential grantees, evaluate proposals, and track program outcomes. Their productivity can be hindered without the right tools to streamline these and other mission-critical aspects of their work.  

Your GMS should enable program staff to carry out these tasks efficiently. But ideally, it will go well beyond that, with features like scenario planning, which enables them to map out their annual giving targets and allocate funds strategically and opportunistically to explore different funding scenarios. 

Jen Ruffner, Director of Grants Management at The Summit Foundation, says, “The ability for our program staff to map out their year of giving within [our GMS] is tremendously helpful.” 

The rise of trust-based philanthropy is another area where a GMS can enhance the work of program staff. With relationships at the center of trust-based practices, it’s a huge benefit to have a GMS that offers strong CRM capabilities.

For example, GivingData’s Grantee360 enables program staff to seamlessly track every interaction they and other foundation staff have with a grantee over the lifetime of the grant. This provides key insights into the evolution of the relationship over time, including both transactional data points like grants and payments and human interactions via emails, site visits, meetings, and more. 


Executive directors and CEOs are responsible for implementing a foundation's mission, vision, and overall strategy. While they may not be directly involved in day-to-day grant management, they rely on a mix of data and insights to ensure things are on track. 

Your GMS should make it easy for executives to create custom dashboards and reports that enable them to track progress toward organizational goals, monitor budgets, and ensure mission alignment. A GMS with board reporting capabilities also allows executive-level staff to provide curated reports to foundation trustees and other board members. 

“From running individual searches to framing more complicated queries, using a GMS in my role makes research easy,” says Tobi Printz-Platnick, Associate Director of The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation. “I find myself asking our grants management team far fewer questions than I have in the past because I can find answers myself. It has made me, and our proposal review process, more efficient.”


Behind every foundation is a skilled operations manager who ensures smooth functioning and compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. From tracking budgets to overseeing grant agreements and compliance, operations managers juggle multiple tasks simultaneously.

A GMS equipped with workflow automation, document management, and compliance tracking capabilities can streamline operation processes, reduce administrative burden, and mitigate compliance risks.

Impact and Evaluation

For foundations committed to helping their nonprofit partners solve big problems, reporting on impact goes beyond sharing financial metrics. Impact managers play a pivotal role in assessing the results, effectiveness, and sustainability of grant-funded initiatives. They need tools that enable them to track outcomes, assess progress toward those outcomes, and make sense of what they learn to improve results. 

Impact managers can also leverage features in a GMS like interaction tracking to measure the frequency and quality of engagements with grantees. 

“We use interactions to track our ‘accompaniment’ of our grantees, mostly seeing the quantity and quality of our touchpoints,” says David Demosthenes, Grants and Impact Manager at Wagner Foundation. “We use these as a measurement of impact. Not so much in the normal way of tracking how much money we gave or the outcomes of the organization itself, but how we’re showing up physically and in a values-aligned we're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our grantees.”


The person responsible for communications within a foundation plays a role in shaping its public image and fostering relationships with external stakeholders. A GMS should support them by offering a strong CRM to maintain up-to-date contact databases and providing easy search capabilities and charts to answer questions from the press, prepare speeches, or brief the Executive Director or Trustees.

Beyond that, a GMS should facilitate the creation of a centralized “story bank” where grantee stories are submitted and can be saved and searched from the organization’s profile. This enables a Comms team to source compelling narratives for communication materials and reports, and allows them to effectively convey the foundation’s mission and impact to the public.  

We’ve come a long way in the decades since those early days of grants management software. And that’s welcome news not just for grants managers, but for anyone in a foundation who can benefit from access to real-time grants data. 

A true purpose-built GMS today should equip people across your organization with the tools they need to excel in their respective roles. The result will be simplified grantmaking, stronger grantee relationships, and greater team collaboration. 

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