Doing More with Less: How Smart Technology Supports Lean Funders

Last year, foundations in the U.S. contributed more than 90 billion dollars to nonprofit programs feeding the hungry, educating the next generation, providing safety to the unhoused, and more. 

While these 100,000+ foundations range in size from one-person operations to those with hundreds of employees, giving purposefully and effectively requires a significant amount of collaboration and organization regardless of a foundation’s size. In fact, lean foundations—one-person shops or those with just a handful of employees—are faced with most, if not all, of the same tasks as larger grantmaking organizations. They too must define giving strategies for the causes they care about, work with grantees to find the best ways to support them, monitor and analyze the impact of their giving, and report results to their boards. 

Lean foundations must manage all of this work with limited staff, each of whom is responsible for multiple roles that would, in larger foundations, typically be distributed across numerous employees, or even departments. The challenge for lean foundations is clear: how to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible without sacrificing service to grantees.

Simply put, the success of lean foundations depends on their ability to do more with less. This requires leveraging technology that is purpose-built for foundations with staff of their size. 

How the Polinger Foundation streamlined their grantmaking processes

The Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation is a lean foundation that has experienced success using GivingData to fund programs that engage individuals, families, and communities in Jewish Life; promote excellence and inspiration in Arts & Culture; promote healthy development for families with children; and strengthen civil society.

The Polinger Foundation was able to simplify its grant application review process thanks to the seamless integration between GivingData and Microsoft Office 365. Before moving to GivingData, staff had to spend time downloading data from grant application forms and converting PDFs into Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Not only was the process excessively time consuming and labor intensive, but it also led to the creation of duplicate files that would end up using valuable space in the foundation’s cloud-based file drives. 

According to Elizabeth Hecker, Polinger Foundation’s Director of Knowledge Management, “We might as well have been receiving email attachments from grantees!” Thanks to GivingData's integration with Office 365, foundation employees are now able to automatically create Word documents that contain application data and review application attachments within the platform, without having to download and "double-store" any files.

Another GivingData feature that the Polinger Foundation finds very valuable is the editor used to build online application and reporting forms. Having an intuitive and flexible tool makes it easy to build new or modify old forms as programs and grantee needs evolve over time and as circumstances change—sometimes suddenly, like during the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020.

As a client of GivingData since 2019, Elizabeth offers the following recommendations to other foundations looking to improve efficiency via their GMS:

  1. “Take advantage of integrations your GMS offers—like Office 365—as they might enable you to do the work in the same place where you store the work, and
  2. “Customize your GMS settings wherever you can so your technology matches your grantees’ needs and your grantmaking operations as much as possible.” 

Lean funders need simplicity and efficiency in their technology

Roberto Cremonini concurs. In his role as GivingData’s Senior Vice President of Client Innovation and Impact, Roberto collaborates across departments and works closely with clients to explore new ideas for the platform. “The Polinger Foundation is a shining example of a lean foundation that has increased its efficiency with GivingData and tailored the system to support the way its staff works,” Roberto said.

He continued, “From the beginning, we envisioned GivingData as a system that would bring to grantmakers the tools they needed to do their work well, focusing on what matters most, giving to the communities and causes they care about, independent of their size and capacity. Over the years, we have seen our vision become reality, particularly for those grantmakers who are strapped for time and resources and don’t have IT departments to support their systems.”

After working in philanthropy for 20 years, Roberto notes that he’s seen many powerful Grants Management Systems, but “too many of them have focused excessively on building wonderful bells and whistles that people ask for but then don’t use because they end up complicating rather than simplifying grantmaking processes.” He adds, “Our staff, instead, has learned that by listening, probing, and collaborating with grantmakers, we can build better products and better serve our customers.”

Why lean foundations choose GivingData

GivingData empowers lean foundations to build and manage strong relationships with their grantees, transforming early exploratory conversations into long-term support. It offers an easy-to-use interface and a flexible database that makes it easy to create reports to tell a foundation’s story and stimulate engaging conversations with the board. GivingData has all of the integrations and features needed both to streamline the grantmaking cycle and to maintain the internal and external transparency and trust that are so critical to successful partnerships with grantees.

That’s why so many lean foundations are turning to GivingData to manage their grantmaking more efficiently and amplify the positive impact of their giving.

“When we show grantmakers the system, it makes sense to them from the very first screen,” Roberto said. “They’re relieved to finally find a system that aligns with the way they think and want to work.”

For examples of how lean foundation can get more done in their GMS, as well as actionable insights to further streamline your foundation's grantmaking processes, subscribe to GD Insights.

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