Best Practices

Five Ways to Unlock the Hidden ROI of Your GMS

‍by Astrik Tenney, Principal, Business Development

The return on investment (ROI) of a right-fit grants management system (GMS) is clear: it empowers grantmakers to create the kind of social impact they want to see in true partnership with their grantee organizations. 

That’s the obvious ROI. But there’s a hidden return that doesn’t receive as much attention. Namely, tremendous efficiency gains that a right-fit GMS brings to organizational processes which frees up much-needed bandwidth for foundation staff to contribute higher value work to the organization. 

That was my experience in my previous role as program manager for grants and community relations at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKCF) where I led the implementation of GivingData’s platform. Within a few short months of launch, our team discovered that we weren’t just working more efficiently, we were gaining back valuable time. 

That gain afforded us a welcome opportunity to step back, reexamine our departmental needs, and engage in some exciting work that aligned well with our organizational strategy. Whether you’ve recently implemented a new GMS, or you’re thinking of moving in that direction, here are five examples you may be able to apply in your organization. 

  1. Share knowledge - The rich information foundations receive from their grantee partners through reports, conversations, and site visits is largely kept in-house. With the new, online grantee portal, we were able to redesign grant report forms to capture valuable qualitative data that could be readily synthesized by our research team. This collaboration led to the creation of a new report that showcased grantee work and offered practitioner advice to share with wider audiences. 
  2. Streamline, streamline - Use your GMS to incorporate internal practice improvements across your organization. JKCF transformed the employee matching gifts program from a cumbersome, paper-heavy process to an easy online application using GivingData’s external portal. That simple change resulted in a threefold increase in employee matching gift applications in just two years.
  3. Elevate grantee work - Find new opportunities to collaborate with your communications team to highlight the work of your grantees. The newly redesigned report forms in the online portal were able to accommodate attachments, allowing grantees to include photos and multimedia files. This made it far easier for staff to contribute to the foundation’s blog and social channels and highlight the impact of grant funded programs.
  4. Focus on grantee engagement - Create new opportunities for grantee engagement and track it over time. JKCF was able to dedicate time to organizing a grantee convening that opened up new avenues for grantee capacity building and collaboration. In today’s virtual space, interactive online platforms like Remo can make that kind of engagement easier and very cost-effective. In parallel, the foundation used GivingData’s relationship and interactions feature (CRM) to easily record emails and phone calls and track engagement over time.
  5. Incorporate Informal learning - As more JKCF staff across the organization began to benefit from improved efficiencies, more time was freed up for professional development. Use that time to organize a learning lunch or a podcast listening session. It’s a great way to bring your program and grants staff together (even in a virtual format) to assess processes and incorporate some proven best practices into your work. This report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy provided a lively discussion and many takeaways for staff.

What often holds organizations back from this high-value outcome is the fear of change and the cost of investment in new technologies and systems. When I hear this narrative, I am reminded of what Robin Sharma, the personal development guru, teaches: “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and glorious at the end.” 

Investing in a right-fit grants management system has the power to transform the way an organization operates. It brings benefits that are above and beyond actual dollars invested, enabling grants and program staff to stretch their skills and knowledge in ways that add tremendous value to an organization. Having gone through this process as a grants manager, I have learned that change is easier than we imagine...if we keep our eyes on the road that leads to that glorious end.

Helpful Resources

Philanthropy and grant management best practices: Center for Effective Philanthropy, PEAK Grantmaking, and Candid Learning

Convening planning resource: Gather: The Art and Science of Effective Convening

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