One of our key design questions has been: "How do we design our teams, our systems, our tools, our infrastructure to facilitate our approach and maximize impact."
The entire program team and grants management team spent two full days reviewing grant management software systems with Marty Schneiderman of Information Age Associates. Now Marty is the undisputed Jedi Master of the field when it comes to technology and grants management software for philanthropy, and his typical clients grant away more in one year than our entire endowment. I wondered how this would translate to a small start up private health conversion foundation with an inexperienced team that is still learning. Through an exhaustive yet smooth process like only Marty can run, he helped us narrow down choices such that we not only owned the decision, but that the solution fit our team and our approach and our programs. (Thanks Marty!)
For example, our prior system was sufficient for handling very simple unsolicited open grant proposals to our Responsive Grants Program; but completely unsuited to our high-community-engagement-flexible-designing-as-we-go community Capacity Building and Strategic Grants programs. So ideally the tools we are using are so useful in getting our jobs done, that we would rather use the tool than not. Isn't that the definition of a tool I suppose?
Another example is building and structuring the team. What roles do you need, what skills, how do they work together or not? When visiting the RWJF, I was intrigued to learn that the program teams are composed not just of program officers and associates, but also have an assigned communications team member as well as a public policy team member. So not just some separate department, but actual imbedded members of the team. And if you have learned over the decades that significant impact happens from policy and environmental systems change, doesn't it make sense that your program teams are built around that approach? Now if only we had the resources to build a full team in each program.