In 2015, The Kavli Foundation hired a new VP of Finance and Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Among his priorities was the selection and implementation of new systems to manage grants and foundation finances. Under the leadership of the new CFO, The Kavli Foundation formed an internal workgroup to select a new Grants Management System (GMS) and identified three primary criteria to guide their choice:
- Avoid creating knowledge silos – They wanted a GMS that could integrate easily with other systems like accounting and contact management;
- Think beyond Grants Management – The foundation sought a system that would not only support the administrative side of grants management, but also allow program staff to document the history of their relationship with grantees and assess the performance and results of their grants;
- Improve the foundation’s data and knowledge management practices – The foundation understood that deploying a new GMS was not merely a software installation, but an opportunity to transform the way they worked by improving their use of data in day-to-day activities.
The Kavli Foundation chose GivingData for two main reasons: first, its full-featured customizable and flexible GMS and second, the experience of the GivingData consulting team in integrating data and knowledge management practices with grantmaking systems. This was uncharted territory for most of the foundation’s staff and they realized that they needed an implementation partner who could show them what was possible and how to do it.
Established in Oxnard, California in 2000, The Kavli Foundation (with assets of $600 million and $9 million awarded annually) is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding of and support for scientists and their work.
Prior to implementing GivingData GMS the foundation did not use a grants management system. They relied on the work of a number of staff to track grantmaking and financial information using the Microsoft Office Suite. Grant information was captured by program officers whereas payments information was managed by the finance department and administrative staff. As a result, data access was brokered by individuals, reconciliation of accounts was not easy, and reporting required complex manipulations or was simply not possible.
Before starting the project, the foundation and GivingData identified six main objectives for the GMS implementation:
- Create a one-stop shop for all financial information and data that program staff use to manage their grants, program expenses, and contracts;
- Make information and data available in the cloud so that it could be securely accessed from anywhere including mobile devices;
- Allow new staff joining the foundation to get easy access to historical, current, and forecast data to facilitate their onboarding;
- Make sure that critical, historical information and knowledge would be captured in the new system before some long-time staff retired;
- Enable program staff to plan for grants and other philanthropic activities such as meetings and events;
- Move beyond grants management by empowering foundation staff to track how relationships with grantee organizations evolve over time.
At the same time, the VP of Finance hired the foundation’s first Grants Manager to establish new grants management processes and policies as well as lead the GivingData implementation. The new Grants Manager had used GivingData in her previous job, which made it easier for her to recommend how the system could be implemented at Kavli.
The GivingData Solution
With an ambitious list of project objectives, caution had to be taken in the implementation to avoid overwhelming staff with the introduction of too much technology and too many new processes at the same time. In order to minimize challenges and disruption, the GivingData team developed a plan to introduce change incrementally. First, the GivingData Consultants worked with the new Grants Manager and the CFO to identify the best GivingData configuration and minimal feature set required for launch. Then, the Grants Manager began populating GivingData with The Kavli Foundation’s historical grant information. Once there was a critical mass of historic grants data in the system, staff was trained and the first iteration of GivingData’s GMS was launched. With the coaching and mentoring of the Grants Manager, staff from several departments began to use GivingData while refinements and new requirements to continue to improve the solution were identified from users feedback.
With only a few months since launch, the Kavli Foundation has begun to recognize important benefits:
- Staff appreciates the value of accessing real-time data without having to ask anybody else. Everyone can go to GivingData to run reports, get answers, and gain insights into the Foundation’s grantmaking;
- Staff appreciates the possibility of cross-referencing grantmaking and financial data. Previously the two data sets were maintained separately and had to be reconciled before staff could run reports;
- Users appreciate the reporting flexibility in GivingData. There are many standard views that can be filtered to address the specific needs of a given program, department, or staff;
- Program staff is able to forecast. Planning does not happen anymore without knowing what portion of future budgets is already committed;
- Being able to access the system from the cloud on a mobile device allows program staff to answer grantee questions when they’re not in the office.
The GivingData GMS is in active use and transforming The Kavli Foundation’s grantmaking. Following the initial launch the foundation is planning to take advantage of more advanced features including tight integration with the accounting system, CRM functionality, visualizations, and the introduction of an online portal to simplify interactions with grantees, partners, and contractors.