GMN2016: Grants Managers Leading and Influencing


Carolyn Sosnowski


Grants Managers Network 2016 in New Orleans opened with inspirational messages about leadership and big picture thinking.

The opening plenary session featured Dr. Jan Young, executive director of The Assisi Foundation of Memphis. She remarked on the identity of grants managers – Who do we think we are? What is our role? – And how our identity defines our behavior and in turn our leadership capabilities.

Although grants management is not a role many GMN members would have conceived of during their childhood years when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the skills of many professions carry over successfully to philanthropic work. Assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating. Attention to detail. Teaching.

Striving to be highly effective grants managers creates value in and highlights the importance of our work. Dr. Young suggested a path to leadership thinking by exploring five points of power, with credit to author and teacher Tolly Burkan, in both our professional and our personal lives.

  • Paying attention – to the choices we make based on our values, to intuition, to signals, to what we say, to what we listen to and retain and to what we discard – ensures that we act with awareness.
  • Keeping agreements – do what we say we will do, even if that agreement was only with ourselves.
  • Speaking the truth, which can be difficult and is many times avoided because of fear, makes it easier to help and advocate for others. Dr. Young says that being truthful should be done respectfully, and that we must also weigh the costs of not speaking out.
  • Being accountable helps create results and a better reality, effecting the change we want to see.
  • Asking for what you want. That is, asking for what you truly want, and sometimes figuring that out takes time. It is important to frame your request with respect and intention, and you may find that you have support from others who were not able to speak up.

Dr. Young mentioned a few authors and books during her presentation. Take a few minutes to look into these resources to explore the topic of leadership further: How Good People Make Tough Choices, by Rushworth Kidder; Let It Be Easy: 12 Actions to Create an Extraordinary Life, by Tolly Burkan; QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, by John G. Miller; and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. Dr. Young is the co – author of Bridges to Health and Healthcare: New Solutions for Improving Access and Services, and was a major general in the Air National Guard, an educator, and a health care practitioner.

A similar leadership – oriented message was shared by Sara Davis, from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Daniel Weinzveg, an organization development consultant, in their session ‘Connecting and Influencing: Become Part of the Big Picture.’ It’s easy to get lost in the detail and day – to – day busyness of grants management work, but stepping back to capture that big – picture view helps us to be leaders in our organizations.

Sara outlined several strategies for connecting to the bigger picture, including listening to the broader conversations happening in your organization and in the philanthropy sector; reading to connect with trends, new ideas, and what people are talking about (including on social media and blogs); asking ‘why?’ to better understand what you are doing and the reasons behind it (sometimes, there is no good reason); comparing and contrasting information on practices and cultures in order to share and learn; looking both upstream and downstream to view your work in the larger context – to understand and be a part of strategic decision making and to see the impact of your work; and expressing wonder and curiosity, which encourages continuous learning and leads to job satisfaction.

Sara and Daniel also spoke about focusing on areas in which you can exert control and influence to tell stories and be a part of conversations about big topics in the field, such as measuring outcomes (how grantmaking makes a difference), philanthropic models, transparency, effective due diligence, and seeking and listening to feedback from grantees to improve processes.

Carolyn J. Sosnowski is the content manager for Grants Management Network. Follow her on Twitter @TheRealCarolynS.

Tagged in: #GMN2016

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