Surdna’s commitment to becoming a learning organization demands that all of our work be oriented to identifying, assessing and acting upon knowledge generated through our grants to make us, our grantees, and our partners better at what we do. And critical to delivering on this is how we manage our grants.
The practice of grants management is undergoing a fundamental shift from a largely administrative function, primarily focused on compliance and efficiency, to an integral part of the foundation’s strategy team. At Surdna, as part of a wider transformation in the field, our grants management staff is not only partnering with grantees to find innovative ways to optimize grant awards, but they are helping to align the foundation’s strategies, people, and systems toward learning.
Surdna’s office of grants management works with program staff to develop and implement systems that assess our progress toward our goals and plan for our work going forward. Grants management is also dedicated to helping grantees make the most of the tools available to them. When grantees have questions about whether awards can be allocated in part to lobbying and advocacy, for example, our default position is to work with grantees, program staff and, where necessary, legal counsel to enable the use of this important tool to achieve the desired objectives rather than shying away from these complex issues.
We have also placed a premium on reducing the application and reporting burden on current and prospective grantees. Through our long-standing representation on the board of the Grants Managers Network, Surdna has joined with other grant makers to establish a set of best practices and exchange innovations, including our contributions to Project Streamline, an initiative to simplify nonprofits’ arduous process of applying for grants.
As is the case at most foundations, Surdna’s grants managers face enormous pressure to process grant proposals, review budgets, ensure regulatory compliance, make payments, and manage reporting procedures. During the lifetime of a grant, Surdna’s grants management touches every part of the foundation from program and finance to communications and leadership. They are—and must be—focused on constantly introducing new efficiencies to an essential business process. Yet, even as we transact new grants, Surdna’s grants management is building systems to allow us to be more attentive to the progress of the strategies that drive those grants.