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Highlights from GDConnect 2021

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:  

  • Payments and Approvals Dashboards — Breanna explained that GivingData has completely reimagined its payments and approvals dashboards, scenario planning, and budget management tools, with a goal to make them more powerful, flexible, and integrated. An overarching goal was to create a more personalized experience so grant-related data can be interpreted in a way that is more meaningful to people in different roles across a foundation. Multiple dashboards allow payments and approvals data to be viewed through different lenses and in ways that are relevant to different users.

  • Budget Manager — The redesigned budget management tool offers a user experience that is more consistent with how foundation and program budgets are managed in other areas of GivingData. Users have the option to create separate budgets for payments and approvals for each fiscal year. The budget data are surfaced in the payments and approvals dashboards to help funders keep their grantmaking on budget.

  • Scenario Planning — GivingData’s Scenario Planning tool has been reimagined to make it fully integrated with the payments dashboards. As with the current tool, it will still be possible to add ideas for grants and plan potential payment schedules over multiple years. But now, scenario planning can be done in any payments dashboard simply by switching into the scenario planning view within the dashboard. It will present results that match the criteria a user has specified for the dashboard, and allow more criteria to be added on the fly. The payment management experience in Scenario Planning has been enhanced to make it easier to manage payments over multiple years, while still seeing the full picture of the payments on any particular request.
  • In-app Email — A crowd-pleaser this year was in-app email, a much-anticipated feature that takes GivingData’s Grantee Relationship Management (GRM) capabilities to the next level. As the name implies, in-app email offers users the ability to send and receive emails within GivingData itself, and to capture those messages, including any replies, in the Grantee360 Interaction record. This eliminates the need to spend time logging email messages as interactions, as it will happen automatically. The full message thread will be preserved for historical purposes, so there’s no risk of losing important correspondence hidden away in someone’s email inbox. 

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!

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