Jessica Bearman sat down with Marcus McGrew, Director of Program Operations and Information Management at The Kresge Foundation, to learn more about what was behind Kresge’s decision to rename the department formerly known as grants management.
Jessica Bearman: Talk to us about the role that grants management – or grants administration – played when you first joined The Kresge Foundation?
Marcus McGrew: I joined the foundation in September 2009 and at that time Kresge was making our signature capital grants, which required some of the most rigorous grantmaking I’ve ever seen. The grants management team reflected this singular focus by playing a very traditional role in making sure grants were made with utmost attention to compliance and payments were processed in a timely manner. That’s what we did.
Jessica Bearman: How did you think about your role and the types of changes needed?
Marcus McGrew: My challenge was to balance honoring established processes, with reinvention. Prior to my arrival, Kresge conducted a survey of culture in 2006 and it showed opportunity for my team to connect with the foundation at large around the expanded function of grants management. .
It takes time to change ways of working and we now work cross-functionally. My staff is embedded into program teams so that we can build relationships and provide the best service. Our goal is to walk in partnership with program staff – and to proactively gather, analyze, and visualize data in ways that are useful to the foundation. But this approach requires a new way of thinking about the job and different skills.
Jessica Bearman: How did you come to the need for a new name?
Marcus McGrew: The name change arose from a conversation I had with CEO, Rip Rapson. He encouraged me to go ahead and be bold. I said: “Well, you know that the nature of support for philanthropy at Kresge continues to evolve. And I feel like my department’s work has also continued to evolve. We sit on a wealth of data and if leveraged correctly can really foster organizational learning.” I wanted to lift up the work. Our new name allows us to communicate our capacity beyond just a compliance function.
Jessica Bearman: How was the change received?
Marcus McGrew: It’s been a journey. However, I think that renaming our department “Program Operations and Information Systems” was a win. And recasting the job descriptions of my team was a win. And now, hiring talent to fill the jobs is an opportunity and a challenge. By redefining the work of the department, we have started to hire for system thinking and analytical skills.
Jessica Bearman: What’s in a name? What was significant about changing the name?
Marcus McGrew: The most important thing is the potential to attract new talent that reflects the aspiration I have for the work and all it can be for Kresge and the sector.
A second thing is that the new name is very descriptive. Our new name allows us to think more creatively about our work. I think it helps our colleagues understand that we are partners in the work.
Jessica Bearman: I’m intrigued that Information Systems is part of your name and team. Tell me more about your hopes for how your department will use data and information in service of the Kresge Foundation’s mission.
Marcus McGrew: I think the grants management profession is going to look completely different in the next 5-10 years and I think there are really cool things on the horizon that will make the work, that’s typically considered boring and compliance-only, very exciting!
On of the things I’m really looking forward to is an integration that allows us to tap into data sources like the U.S. Census so that we can confirm that our funding is really landing in places that are low-income communities in cities we target. We code our funding down to the neighborhood so using this interface, we can confirm that there is intentional distribution to the city’s core and its neighborhoods.
That granular data will accelerate our learning and continuous improvement and better serve the organizations that serve low-income communities and community members.
Jessica Bearman: That sounds amazing! It’s definitely not your granddad’s grants management.
Marcus McGrew: Something that I often ponder is the added value that the grants management profession can provide for philanthropy. That’s what keeps me inspired about the work that’s underway at Kresge. More importantly, I think about the impact that we might make to the sector. We need to come out of our bubbles and show what we’re capable of.
Jessica Bearman: Final question for you: what should grants management professionals consider if they make a shift in their department?
Marcus McGrew: Recognize upfront that change management is a journey. Even good change, despite your best intentions to plan for what will or could happen, is sometimes messy and painful. But when change is done WELL (Well-intentioned; carefully Executed; aptly Lead; and all-Lifting), it fosters creativity to problem solve and innovate and spurs organizational growth and learning.
Marcus McGrew is the Kresge Foundation’s Director of Program Operations and Information Systems. He is responsible for developing and streamlining the foundation’s grantmaking operations by managing data integrity to foster informed decision-making, measuring and reporting payout progress against grant budgets and ensuring legal compliance. Follow him on Twitter @marcusmcgrew.