Have you ever played a game of telephone?  You know, the one where a person starts a string of information—usually something fairly straightforward—and passes it along to the next person, then to the next person, and so forth? Well, invariably when you reach the end of the line, the narrative is completely (and often hilariously) different from the original.
It’s a fun game to play with friends, and with nothing at stake, but you wouldn’t want to do that with important information. The loss of the narrative when you need a clear picture can have an adverse effect when your grantmaking finances and impact are at stake. Yet, in many cases, there is a form of telephone that gets played. Critical pieces of data are stored in different systems, and then they’re compiled separately, manually manipulated, and reworked before they’re put back into the hands of decision makers.

Business intelligence  tools eliminate this game by centralizing, amalgamating and transforming the data into something consumable. This way, the information is accurate, meaningful, and has tremendous power to influence future giving and grantmaking. Let’s discuss the ways in which business intelligence—rather, grantmaking intelligence—can have a profound impact on how you measure success.

Connecting it all together

Think about all the different areas of the organization that collect important information around awards, funding, payments, claims, impact reports—the list goes on. In many cases, there is a system or group of systems that house that information and a responsible person for each type of information. Each system contributes to the process and, to get the full picture, you need to bring all the data together. A typical method many have to resort to is to extract the data manually from each system. One is then left with the task to compile into a spreadsheet with the pivot tables and visualizations needed to present it in a somewhat usable manner. The challenge with this work is the skill sets it requires, the time commitment, the chance for error and the fact that data becomes stale over time. In short, there’s ample opportunity for information to get distorted—just like in a game of telephone.

Grantmaking intelligence is designed to eliminate that. An essential component of any meaningful grants management system, it is capable of amalgamating data from multiple sources and presenting them in a single, dynamic visualization so you can easily understand the meaning behind the data. Grantmaking intelligence eliminates the game of telephone because it goes right to the source, with no unnecessary manual manipulation, delays, or out-of-date information. It also provides a single source of truth and makes that source available to all stakeholders so that you ease the burden that often gets put on a single gatekeeper.

An essential component of any meaningful grants management system, it is capable of amalgamating data from multiple sources and presenting them in a single, dynamic visualization so you can easily understand the meaning behind the data.

Getting the right information to the right people

Even if you manage to manually compile all the information you need from across your organization, you still have to make sense of what it’s trying to tell you so you can share the insights in a meaningful way. What’s meaningful, however, is different for every stakeholder. Each person and role will want answers to different questions.

Financial: How much funding is there this year, and when and where will we award grants? All organizations need to manage reserves, and ensuring you are liquidating those funds at the right time is important. Working on potentially outdated data coalesced in a spreadsheet might cause problems for decision makers.

Programmatic: How do your various buckets of funding break down at the program level? This goes for both future and past grants; who and what are we committed to, and how much might we award down the road? What is the payment schedule and are we paying on time? Are the grantees meeting their reporting commitments? How do the program goals impact your finances? There are many questions to answer, and a single source of truth helps provide holistic insight into your business.

Strategic: What is the forward-looking strategy for our giving? Can we anticipate what the next three-to-five years might look like based on past and current data? How can that influence our decisions for our future path? It’s a combination of all those data points that helps inform what you can achieve and provides the information and insight that allows you to forecast a path for the future. Without a grantmaking intelligence solution, this becomes an arduous, time-consuming and potentially poorly informed process.

Pulling it together with visualizations

A picture is worth a thousand words.This is why grantmaking intelligence is critical, not just because of charts and graphs and maps it delivers, but more importantly, the questions it answers and the stories it tells to the people who are viewing them.

Not every person needs to see the same data to be informed—nor should they. A program director will want to look at more granular data than, say, a board member. They each might want to see the same data,  but at different “elevations.”  The key to making your data work in your favor is to fine-tune how you present it to different audiences. This is where dashboards become the face of the data, the layer that helps create meaning, allowing people to consume the information and inform their decision-making. Consider doing the following as you approach visualizing your data.

The key to making your data work in your favor is to fine-tune how you present it to different audiences.

Understand what is most important to whom. When building visualizations, ask the stakeholders what is most important and the questions they want answered. Some will only want to see a high level view. Others will want to drill down into a secondary layer. A rare few will want access to all the data down to the table level. This can be dependent on the questions they need to answer, the role, the meeting they will inform or even the type of person who is viewing.

Build a unique dashboard for that audience. Once you understand who the dashboards need to inform, you can build the visualizations required. For a board member, it may be a high-level strategic insight into giving and financial futures. For a program manager, it may be a dashboard that provides a more granular breakdown on programs, impact, demographics, and payments. Details will vary, but the power of grantmaking intelligence is that the same data from all over the organization can be displayed uniquely for that role or even an individual.

Leverage analytics to uncover insights. Truly intuitive intelligence platforms give you the ability to see not only the data but also the reasons why the data is shaped the way it is. Regular reporting can tell you what has happened, but it typically requires the individual user to to drill down as to why it happened. When you have grantmaking intelligence, you can intuitively uncover the why and deliver a much richer narrative to your stakeholders. That’s the power of grantmaking intelligence;  it’s more than reporting, it’s the dynamic, visual representation of the data that provides the depth and power required to tell meaningful stories and make better decisions.

This level of insight has for too long been out of reach for many grantmakers. But intelligence tools have come a long way over the years in providing easier-to-use, cost-effective options for organizations of all sizes.

We live in a data-driven world.; Everything is being connected and the information from this is helping to uncover new and better ways to work, live, and thrive as organizations and as a society. Grantmaking, grants management, and philanthropy should be no different in this sense.

Grants management solutions such as Fluxx Grantmaker have been at the forefront of this data-driven approach for over a decade and have developed grantmaking intelligence tools that surface the right information to make informed decisions. Adoption of the data-informed approach—connecting all the pieces to guide meaningful decisions, change, and impact – improves processes, enables storytelling, and ultimately grows the mission. It’s time to move away from a game of chance and tap into grantmaking intelligence.

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