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Next week is a big week for us - we'll finally be sharing the full cover and name of our book, and we'll be launching a new website so that people can pre-order it. 

To celebrate this milestone in our publication journey, we're delighted to let you know that Sufina Ahmad, Director of the John Ellerman Foundation, will be interviewing us live at our official pre-launch event. Sufina will be sharing her own thoughts on Modern Grantmaking, as well as asking us about why we devided to write a book on it, and what we hope might happen as a result.

We can't wait to talk with you for the first time about our book, so please register for our online pre-launch event here


In the meantime here's a sneak preview proof that the book actually exists...

Book Extract 5: What does a good manager look like in a funding organisation?

First, we need to present a trio of Everest-sized caveats about what we’re about to tell you.

Teaching management techniques isn’t like teaching mathematics. Nearly every piece of advice about management can be hedged or even contradicted by some other piece of advice. That’s because management is fundamentally about working with and getting the most out of people, and people are gloriously, infuriatingly unpredictable. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant put it, ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.

Second, a lot of management advice that can be picked up in airport bookstores isn’t necessarily helpful. Classic macho, alpha ‘leading from the front’ can be problematic in grantmaking. As John Palfrey, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation told us, ‘It is super-important to approach the work with a humility that might not serve, say, the leader of a big city, or the CEO of a big company.’

Third, we are aware that all management advice is very much culturally situated. So, for example, management norms in countries and communities with consensus-based cultures are going to be very different from those in countries where more individualistic behaviour is rewarded.

So, with these caveats in mind, let’s actually set out some good practice. We interviewed a large number of grantmakers and asked them what they thought good managers within funding organisations should do, and they told us that good managers should:

- Encourage awareness of the power problem within teams: Managers of grantmakers should regularly remind their team members of the power imbalance that exists between them and grantseekers. As one foundation CEO told us, ‘As a manager you have a responsibility to make sure people manage their own egos and remember they’re in the service business.’

- Show trust: The very structure of a traditional funder can perpetuate mistrust between junior staff, who source funding proposals, and those at senior or board level, who approve them. A good grantmaking manager compensates for this by showing real trust in the grantmakers they support. As one interviewee put it, ‘A good manager shows an active interest in the work of her direct reports but defers to them as subject-matter experts.’

- Demonstrate an active commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion: As one experienced grantmaker put it, ‘What is it to be a good leader in grantmaking these days? Maybe the primary thing I would say is to pursue a commitment to diversifying the staff.’ Good managers will treat equity, diversity and inclusion as a long-term project and will not accept tokenistic gestures. For a useful perspective on equity and funding organisations, we recommend Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Elizabeth Russell’s article, ‘What the Heck Does “Equity” Mean?’ in Stanford Social Innovation Review, October 2020.

- Encourage learning and the evolving of beliefs: A good grantmaking manager will be constantly seeking to learn the ways in which they were previously wrong or misguided. They will then bring that desire to learn and improve to their teams, actively encouraging colleagues to share mistakes in a safe environment rather than sweep them under the carpet. A good grantmaking manager will also often say things such as ‘I used to believe that, but then the evidence showed me I was wrong’, as a way of modelling good practice in front of their teams.

- Be a critical friend: You can fail as a manager of grantmakers by giving too much negative feedback or by giving none at all. The perfect balance is being the critical friend, who, in the words of one senior foundation manager, ‘balances being really supportive and enthusiastic about the underlying work with not shying away from the difficult conversations about what’s going well and what’s not’.

- Be a coach, not a micromanager: One thing that can challenge grantmakers who are promoted to management positions is the tension between the new skills they need to deploy and the skills they were originally hired for. In the words of one anonymous grantmaker we interviewed, ‘When you hire people to pore over detail and make judgements, and then elevate them into management without training, it’s inevitable that detail and judgement will become the default for their managing style.’ Good funder managers give their grantmakers space and encouragement, and won’t micromanage their every move. You should ensure that you talk to the people who report to you about how they prioritise their time, asking them questions about how they do this rather than telling them exactly what to do.

- Live up to the values: Managers should clearly live by the values that a funding organisation claims are important. As one senior grantmaker told us, As a manager in grantmaking it’s really important to remind your team of the values that underpin the organisation – you should also be the person that calls colleagues to account if those values aren’t being met. It’s also important to have integrity and to be someone whom people want to follow. One grantmaker praised their manager for ‘identifying with and expressing moral values without taking herself too seriously’.


For more advice on other aspects of managing inside a funding organisation, including managing up to your board, pre-order your copy of Modern Grantmaking after our event, next week...

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