New Ways to Build Grantee Capacity: Setting Them Up to Scale
What an inspiring #PEAKOnline2021conference. Congratulations to the PEAK board and host committee and especially to Satonya Fair whose leadership was embedded throughout every session and every conversation. Satonya has unleashed the PEAK community who dove deep on topics and brought PEAK’s many new members into the excitement. It was particularly inspiring to learn about the different ways the PEAK members are working to support their grant partners and the way they are championing to approach their work with an equity lens at their foundations.
On the first day of the conference, I had the honor of hosting a session with my colleague Stephen Minix, Managing Director at UpMetrics and Michael Tipton, President of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana (BCBSFL) where we discussed how the BCBSFL invested in the data capacity of a few grant partners by providing the technology they needed instead of a direct grant. The goal of this session was to inspire us to think about new or alternative ways to build grant partner capacity to make it easier for our grant partners to invest in themselves, scale their operations and programs, and, as the Keynote speaker LaTosha Brown shared earlier that day, to ask your grant partners what their vision is for their communities and help them drive towards that vision through data. In case you missed it, I wanted to provide you with a recap of what I learned.
Focus on what the true needs of the community are.
Michael shared that as part of BCBSFL grantmaking portfolio, they realized that they wanted to make grant investments to a number of organizations that were on the frontlines of a few keys issue areas of great importance to the community but didn’t have much capacity (few staff, low budgets, limited resources). Once BCBSFL identified these organizations and recognized the challenges they were experiencing they learned from the frontline organizations that they didn’t need a grant for dollars they needed help to support them scale their operations. Michael said that BCBSFL learned early on in their grantmaking that “making a grant to organizations without the capacity does not get the ball down the road.” Michael and his team needed to lean in with the organizations they were looking to support to find out what they truly needed and what type of support would help get them there. BCBSFL invested in their data technology through UpMetrics to help their grant partners track their goals, communicate their impact and capture and communicate their stories. This was an investment these grant partners didn’t even know they needed before BCBSFL approached them.
Emphasize using the data to deepen the level of collaboration.
Stephen shared with the audience an experience he had with funding for programs at a charter school district. The funding was pulled from the program virtually overnight because, as it was communicated to them: “they lacked an effective data strategy to articulate the outcome we were aspiring to have.” What was missed here was the collaboration between the program itself and the funder, in this case, the government. If the funder spent the time with the program to learn where they were with their program and on their data journey they would have learned that the data they were tracking was meaningful to them and the direction they were going in. This collaboration could have led the funder and recipient to focus on the areas where there was need and could have educated the funder on what is important to frontline organizations.
Funding capacity means funding sustainability.
Michael shared that internally, their small team had been talking about the need to support capacity building of small organizations for some time however it was often difficult to figure out how to approach capacity building. What they learned in the process is that they were really funding two types of organizations. One group, who served more as an evaluator in health care human capital, were measuring how many people apply, how many people are in their programs, what success did they achieve. These organizations were more data mature. The second group were more proactive grantees where they didn’t have any data maturity and needed help setting goals and benchmarks. They worked closely with the UpMetrics team to define, implement and track those in partnership with the grantees. What everyone learned is that with both approaches their partnership meant that the organizations were able to maintain if not grow their programs through one of the most challenging years.
Using data to drive action.
Finally, all organizations discussed are using the data, both qualitative and quantitative to learn, make decisions, and drive action. Stephen shared that UpMetrics partner the Black Equity Collective is using data to convene and collaborate a number of key partners including funders and the community to strengthen the long-term sustainability of Black-led and Black-empowering organizations in Southern California. They plan to make this data central to every convening and conversation they have, asking themselves: have we moved the needle, what has changed, what do we need to do next.
Foundations are not only investing in their own digital infrastructure, analytics, goal tracking and impact tools, they are beginning to look at the needs of their grant partners and communities to understand where there are gaps. By investing in the data needs and strategy of their grant partners, foundations are beginning to unlock a stronger understanding of racial disparities within communities. They can then provide their grant partners and their communities with insight into where community challenges are, analytics on progress and direction on how to learn from and take action on their data.
Don't miss our webinar with Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana and grantee Line 4 Line on June 15th, where we will dive further into how they built this collaborative relationship with data capacity at the center.