I’ve spent the past 5 years (and more to come!) deeply embedded in the operations of a family foundation. This is where I’ve honed my skills as a Salesforce admin, process optimizer, and automation designer. During this time, Salesforce has changed. A lot. Not only have key packages been purchased and deprecated (or left to whither on the vine), but new packages have emerged or been integrated into the Salesforce.org offerings. One of these that I find particularly compelling is PMM, which is an abbreviation for Program Management Module. (Learn more about it here).
Last night, I literally had a dream about adding the functionality of PMM to an existing grantmaking organization, no matter which data model the org is already using (NPSP, Outbound Funds, Grants Management product, foundationConnect, or fully custom).
In my dream, I imagined logging “service deliveries” to represent introductions to other funders, webinar participation, and funding specifically for capacity building efforts that transcend programmatic silos at a foundation. While these activities are rarely promoted, many staff members make them a personal priority and (anecdotally) they are very popular among grantees.
Foundations do more than make grants
In a healthy, functioning nonprofit ecosystem, I believe funders should do more than just write checks. I think it would be helpful to get more specific here, but remember, this is just expository writing, so consider it a provisional list! Some examples:
- provide paid capacity building opportunities
- shift public narrative about key issue areas through media and public relations
- introduce grantees to each other and to other funders
- celebrate grantee accomplishments
- commission original research on obstacles that limit grantee success
- share takeaways from projects across time/geography/sectors
- advocate for progressive policies to the extent allowable by regulations
- collaborate with other funders to shift power in philanthropy
Fortunately, I think most funders do many of these things, however, we do not have a great way to track or quantify these activities.
PMM could be an effective way to monitor practices that advance the sector
We recently hosted a speaker from a program at the local public library that provides research support for nonprofits and small businesses pursuing funding opportunities. While this resource has been around for a long time, and we have regularly referred unsuccessful grant-seekers to avail themselves of these services, it was eye opening for me to learn about the many ways that this program could help the nonprofit sector. I had an “aha moment” where I realized that connecting orgs to services like these is an essential function of larger foundations, and one that has become nearly invisible, or at least obfuscated by our other more prominent activities.
Many years ago, I wrote a successful grant application to a prestigious national foundation. Soon after we were awarded the funding, we were presented with a docket of professional development opportunities (from management training to technology to communications, etc) that were open to staff at no cost to the organization. Through this program, I attended a field study trip in New Mexico, where I learned about community-owned aqueducts known as acequias. I wonder if the Foundation had a mechanism of tracking this, or if they just wrote the check.
Many foundations dedicate resources to storytelling, such as producing beautifully designed “white papers”/brochures, scholarly research, and grantee profiles. I have benefitted from many such deliverables, and therefore, I think the impact of these could be benchmarked, presented to board members, and evaluated.
The foundation where I am based sometimes funds special projects that build grantee capacity, but they are mixed in with general project grants. Some examples that come to mind include a cohort-based project for new/small/grassroots organizations to scale up their fundraising chops and a cohort-based project to recruit diverse board members. I would love to highlight these grants and have a way to measure the people/organizations that are positively impacted, along with more diffuse capacity building work that is underway.
How would these activities be organized in PMM?
Below is a mock up ERD (borrowed from PMM product documentation) with some suggestions about records that could live there.
PMM starts out with two main organizing objects at the “top” of the hierarchy. Programs and Services. Programs are the highest level and most orgs will not have very many of them. Services describe the activities that are offered within each Program. Everything else in the data model is organized around connecting contacts/orgs to these core entities.
For Programs, I proposed:
- Strengthen the nonprofit sector
- Strengthen and reform the philanthropic sector
- Advocate for issues of concern
- (possible 4th = Grantmaking, but most of that will be handled elsewhere in the data model)
For Services, I proposed:
- Capacity building workshops (these could be in-house or out-sourced)
- Presentations at field convenings
- Press releases
- Research papers
The trickiest object to define will be Service Deliveries, which are individual instances of programs that are measurable and attributed to an individual.
- Introduction to capacity building opportunities
- Research downloads from website
- Advocacy meetings / public appearances
- Enrollment in workshops
With a structure like this in place, we could then train staff to “log” their activities that pertain to these high level goals. Then we could have dashboards that demonstrate capacity building outputs, and hopefully support forward-thinking foundation leadership to advocate for additional resources based on the popularity of these programs.
There are many things that I think foundations could and should do, or do more, like community review boards, general operating support, shorter applications, shorter reports, etc. And there is much discussion in professional forums about “disruptive” grantmaking, like Mackenzie Scott. This post is not dedicated to these topics.
Rather, what I am interested in modeling here are “programs” that foundations may be running “under the radar” that are enormously impactful, popular, and relatively inexpensive compared to other activities, but that are rarely discussed, measured, evaluated, or celebrated. Some of these things have to do with day-to-day communications, internal processes, or auxiliary services that fall outside of core grantmaking. If I was a board member, I would be delighted to know that foundation staff are engaged in network building, capacity building, issue advocacy, research, etc.
Long time readers will know that I don’t think it has to be quantified to be important. With that being said, and with the inspiration of leveraging the capability of PMM, an arrangement like this seems like it could be relatively low hanging fruit and allow opportunities for foundations to do more of what grantees love!