Talent Drives Successful Structures – and PEAK Grantmaking

Talent Drives Successful Structures – and PEAK Grantmaking

For the last year, on behalf of PEAK Grantmaking, consultant Jessica Bearman and I have been studying foundations that have successfully connected the “how” of grantmaking with their organization’s philanthropic strategy and impact.  We developed an overview and a set of case stories profiling foundations making progress on this front, and called the project, Successful Structures. Over the last six months, a series of “road shows” brought these stories to more than a dozen of PEAK Grantmaking’s regional chapters, spreading the word and gathering even more insight into how grantmakers and grantseekers benefit when practices are connected intentionally to strategy and impact.

During three Successful Structures gatherings, in Atlanta, Boston, and New York, PEAK Grantmaking had the good fortune to catch up with Natasha Battle-Edwards, Grants Manager of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Sue Fulton, CFO of Endowment for Health, and Bonnie Rivers, Associate Director of Grants and Records Management, for Carnegie Corporation of New York, respectively.

Recently, we invited Natasha, Sue, and Bonnie to join a conversation to reflect together on the ways their foundations, with their leadership, had been working to connect grants management and strategy.  While the rich and insightful perspectives shared during this free-flowing and candid conversation could fill ten more articles, one of the more inspiring themes surfaced during the call, as each woman introduced herself and recounted her professional journey, aligned with one of the key themes of the Successful Structures research, namely:  grants management 2.0 emphasizes a different kind of “talent” and professional development.

Together, Natasha, Sue, and Bonnie represent decades in philanthropy as well as the remarkable transformation in the grants management field. During that time, each has seen – more accurately, each has led – dramatic change in the role of grants management at their foundations.  Each has suggested and implemented process and policy improvements, helped build high-functioning teams, and aligned grant practices with foundation strategy to achieve greater impact.  At the same time, while on the job, each woman has forged her own unique career path, earning her master’s degree, moving from an administrative role into the role of thought partner and knowledge manager.

Bonnie’s journey began with the Rockefeller Foundation and, looking for new and different challenges, led her to her current position with the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In response to external requests to access and study Carnegie’s venerable history and a mandate from senior leadership at the Corporation, she recently began overseeing records management, working, over time, to make more than 100 years of Carnegie documents, reports, and other knowledge assets more accessible and useful by digitizing the materials and making them available electronically to researchers, grantees, and the general public.  This opportunity expanded Bonnie’s role, giving her the opportunity to work alongside grantee Columbia University (where the Corporation’s materials are archived) to increase the Universities capacity to permanently archive digitized materials.

In Atlanta, meanwhile, Natasha has reached significant milestones in her career and organization, earning a master’s degree and completing a total restructuring of grants management at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Developing distinct roles, responsibilities, checks and balances and a team approach for this 66-year-old community foundation proved a multi-layered challenge and drew upon Natasha’s strong, empathetic relationships up, across, and throughout her organization.  Today, as she looks back on the progress she’s made, she and her colleagues recognize how essential grants management has become to the foundation’s overall strategic success.  Perhaps no one other than the foundation’s CEO is more knowledgeable about and invested in the success of all the Community Foundation functions (grantmaking, finance, investments, development).  As such, Natasha has both provided support and benefited from the support and “buy-in” of their executive leadership.  The foundation’s leadership helps to reinforce the connection of grants management team to mission and strategy, while on a personal level, Natasha’s professional journey is a constant reminder to invest in her team’s professional development and capacity.

Sue Fulton offers yet another example of grants management’s evolution. Sue joined the Endowment for Health as an executive assistant at its inception in 2001, in a largely administrative, compliance role.  She, too, earned a master’s degree while on the job and she, too, has shepherded her organization’s grants management from a nuts-and-bolts administrative function to its current structure, successfully advancing the Endowment’s mission to improve the health and reduce the burden of illness for the people of New Hampshire. In 2015, Sue was named Chief Financial Officer of the Endowment, literally moving grants management upstream in the organization’s hierarchy and decision making. Sue’s path offers another example of the potential for growth and career advancement in philanthropy and grants management, specifically.  Perhaps unlike any other role, grants managers – if ready, willing and en-abled – can see across functions, build healthy relationships among colleagues, and make both tactical and strategic improvements in service of mission.

For Bonnie, Natasha, and Sue, this vision – combined with tenacity and a willingness to say “yes” more often than “no” – has led to new roles and new challenges not just in their own careers but in their organizations and the larger grants management field. Along the way, each woman agreed, they have had their network of peers encouraging them, making connections, and investing in the potential of grant managers to be change makers in philanthropy.

In fact, PEAK Grantmaking’s trajectory has run parallel, right alongside Bonnie, Natasha, and Sue. From an unstaffed affinity group of compliance-focused tacticians to a membership of 3,600, staffed by 10 professionals, today PEAK Grantmaking connects grantmaking practices to philanthropic purpose in ways that could only be imagined at its launch in 1996.  As each Successful Structure profile affirmed – and Bonnie, Natasha, and Sue exemplify – the talent, skills and drive of grants managers themselves have led the way.  Stories from Bonnie, Natasha, and Sue are a wonderful reminder that PEAK Grantmaking’s future is limited only by its members’ vision, imagination, and drive!

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