Expanding Our Reach

For a little more than a year now, I have been consulting with foundations to support their grants management, IT and Program teams.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my work as a consultant and feel grateful to my clients for allowing me to partner with them on their large-scale projects to introduce new grants management systems to their foundations.  

At some point in the last year, I realized that I wanted to expand my company and be able to provide consulting support to more foundations than I could on my own.  I knew that it would be hard to hire someone who was steeped in philanthropy and fully understood the grants management side of the work.  Fortunately, we managed to find each other.

I am pleased to announce that Rebecca Smith has joined 1892 consulting as a Senior Consultant.  I feel incredibly lucky to have Rebecca join the team.  Rebecca has spent over 14 years at The Kresge Foundation working as the Information Systems Manager supporting Grants Management, Program and IT teams to implement systems and facilitate the grantmaking process.  She brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and a strong technical skill set to our consulting practice.

We realize that this may be confusing—we are both named Rebecca.  If it’s easier, feel free to refer to us as “the Rebeccas”.

The field of grants management has been evolving over the past five years, and we are pleased to see how many grants managers now have a seat at the table and are guiding thoughtful and informed grantmaking practices at their foundations.  We want to continue support these foundations and and hope to build relationships with many more in the future.

With two consultants now on staff, we are in a fantastic position to be able to expand the reach of our grants management consulting practice to more foundations.  We are excited by the opportunities ahead of us.

Please join me in welcoming Rebecca Smith to 1892 consulting!

New Year. New House. New Routines.

I recently moved into a house after nearly 20 years of apartment living.  At the outset, I had blissful visions of moving into a space that would be so sparsely decorated with furniture that it would appeal to my minimalism.  The only thing more exciting was the seemingly endless amount of storage that could finally be meticulously organized rather than crammed into too deep cupboards and forgotten.  In reality though, the extra space has sometimes felt empty, and it’s been more challenging than I expected to get comfortable with the new routines required in our house.

You get used to what you know, and I have realized that I know and love apartment living, especially small places where I can see everything that is happening and where almost everything is within reach or only a few steps away.  

But with two step daughters and an active dog, it was time to find a place more suitable for sleepovers and an outdoor game of fetch.

And then we fell in love with a big, old, historic house that "has lots of potential" and lots of stairs.  I was hesitant to leave the known comfort and relative ease of apartment living, but there was something about the wrap-around porch, the beautifully decorated office, and the unfinished attic with the high-pitched ceiling that I couldn’t resist.

After a few weeks of living in our house, and spending our mornings frantically running from one end to the other and up and down the stairs trying to leave for school and work on-time without forgetting lunches, backpacks, water bottles, keys, and shoes, I realized that I was completely out of my element in our house.  Everything seemed to take longer and be far less efficient than I remembered from apartment living.  The routines that were so practiced in our compact apartment, seemed to completely fall apart in our house.

It was most obvious in the kitchen, when my husband kept asking me to direct him to bread, peanut butter, apples, knives, and pots and pans. Many of those things were in the same place as before (i.e., the refrigerator!), while others, like knives, were completely relocated.  He had grown so accustomed to his routine of making lunches in our apartment with our old kitchen layout, and it was frustrating for him to not know immediately where to find his tools.

And then it hit me, because these are the things I think about while hauling laundry up and down stairs:  settling into a new house is a surprisingly similar process to switching to a new grants management system, and it takes practice and time to find your new routines and feel comfortable again.

After months or years of working in one grants management system, you undoubtedly have routines that you rely upon even if you don’t realize it.  You know what buttons to push to find your grantee’s contact information and how to quickly find out when their next report is due.  You know exactly how to mark a payment as “Paid” or amend a grant.  You have likely built reports that pull together past grantmaking, and the report displays the grant information just as you prefer to see it.

When you switch to a new grants management system, you have to re-learn how to do all of these things and more.  You will likely need to learn how to navigate in a new system with new menus and icons.  You may need to become familiar with new terms and then figure out how to translate them to your foundation’s vocabulary.  With some systems, you might even be adding new users, like program officers, directors and senior management--staff who have previously not been active users of the grants management system.  All of this is a lot of change, and it can be frustrating, especially when you had previously been in such a comfortable place.

You are missing those old, familiar routines, and it takes patience, practice and time to develop new routines and new tricks in your new grants management system.  You may even find that things are more organized in your new system, and that you have better visibility to where the pending grants are rather than having to spend time hunting for an e-mail approval chain.

That’s what has happened in our house.  Slowly, the house has become more familiar.  I know where to set my keys so I can find them when I’m walking out the door, and I usually remember my socks before walking downstairs to put on my shoes.  Eventually, the basement may get organized.  

Plenty of things are still not ideal about our house, and it is likely that any grants management system you adopt will also not solve all of your foundation’s problems.

Still, you are certain to get some features that will greatly improve your grantmaking approval process and others that could help you finally tame those overdue reports.  Our new house has a fireplace that keeps us warm and cozy.  The girls have their own bedrooms and plenty of hiding places for enduring games of hide and seek.  I have even started to wonder how I managed to live in 700 square feet for so many years.  

And then there are some routines that take a little longer to break:  I still stutter when I give someone my address, and they ask for an apartment number.  I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to that routine.

Have you had to learn new routines?  What have you done to make it easier to adjust to new routines?

Why 1892?

This is my first blog entry for our newly launched company, 1892 consulting.  I am excited to be able to write about our company and share with you our plan to contribute to the philanthropic community.

I feel very lucky to have worked for some of the world's largest and most interesting foundations; and, in my own small way, I have helped them make a difference and improve their grantmaking.  While grants management is often seen as the unglamorous side of foundations, I have always been fascinated by internal operations.  If I can help expedite grant payments even by one day, then the money can get to grantees faster and allow them to start the real work on the ground.  Seeing the whole picture of the foundation and nonprofit ecosystem has helped me keep perspective and recognize the impact that small process and visibility changes at a foundation can have for grantees and their communities.

It hit me somewhere during the past few months: the thing I want to do next is to help as many foundations be as efficient and effective as possible.  I realized that the best way for me to do that is by creating a grants management consulting firm.  In a way, I have already been informally consulting for years within the corporate and private foundations where I worked.  During those times, I continuously sought to identify pain points in processes and then looked to eliminate those and create efficiencies, often by applying technology.

The role of the grants manager is becoming more strategic at foundations, and with the increasing importance of data in decision-making, we see an exciting opportunity to contribute to the field of philanthropy.  We have knowledge and expertise in grants management and can share effective lessons and practices in to help foundations become better grantmakers.

The name 1892 consulting came about because we recently bought a house that was built in 1892.  According to Google, 1892 turns out to have been an eventful year: it was a year for patents, including the diesel engine and two-way telegraph.  It was the year Ellis Island opened.  The year that GE, Carnegie Steel and the Sierra Club were all established.  It was the year that Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker premiered in Russia.  To my husband’s delight, a lifelong Liverpool fan, 1892 was also the year the Liverpool Football Club was founded.

And so we had our company name, 1892 consulting.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you and getting your ideas about how you think we can help foundations and grants managers become even more strategic and efficient in their grantmaking.

How do you like our company name?  How do you think we can best serve foundations?