By Lisa Philp, Foundation Center
“After reading the Scan 2.0 guide, I recognize that many things that we do can be considered scanning, even though I had only viewed them as “knowing our communities.” — Leslie Cheu, Executive Director, The Troy Savings Bank Charitable Foundation, Troy, NY
“Thoroughly understanding the systems dynamics of the fields in which we are granting is fundamentally important. To understand, we need to ‘scan the landscape’ routinely and effectively. Without making the effort to scan, we run the risk of flying blind in our grantmaking.” — Mary Anthony, Executive Director, 1772 Foundation, Pomfret, CT
To increase your impact as a small foundation, you may find it necessary to look for targets of opportunity—places where your foundation’s support could be especially influential, where its resources could help develop a new direction or innovation, or where you might be able to join forces or align your funding with others in order to accomplish something bigger than you could do alone. Finding those opportunities and understanding how a given field or community works are often referred to as “scanning the landscape.”
Scans can be tailored for different needs such as finding a strategic direction, hearing from key constituencies, understanding emerging issues, mapping the funding environment, or synthesizing information and finding gaps. In this age of information overload, an increasing number of funders are feeling a need to scan more or less continually and are using technology tools to streamline and simplify the process.
A new publication, Scanning the Landscape 2.0: Finding Out What’s Going on in Your Field, draws upon interviews with funders who shared their experiences and insights about scanning and can be downloaded at no charge from the GrantCraft web site. GrantCraft is a joint program of the Foundation Center in New York and the European Foundation Centre in Brussels. Resources in the GrantCraft series are not meant to give instructions or prescribe solutions; rather, they cull the “practical wisdom” of grantmakers to spark ideas, stimulate discussion, and suggest possibilities.
I had the good fortune of discussing scanning recently with two ASF members: Leslie Cheu from the Troy Savings Bank Charitable Foundation and Mary Anthony from the 1772 Foundation. Both of them have great examples of how they have used larger-scale, intentional scanning to determine areas of focus as well as iterative, ongoing scanning to understand key audiences, track issues, generate new ideas, and make course corrections along the way.
The three of us will lead a discussion on Turning Knowledge Into Impact in the Information Age at ASF’s 2012 National Conference next month. Our session will include key findings from GrantCraft’s research on scanning, a conversation drawing upon Leslie’s and Mary’s experiences, questions and answers, and a small-group exercise on applying lessons learned back home.
In the meantime, please share your specific stories or interests about scanning with me directly or via comments. We look forward to seeing you in San Francisco on the afternoon of October 8!
For more on this topic, see Scanning the Landscape: Assessing Needs and Finding Your Funding Niche.
Lisa Philp is vice president for strategic philanthropy and director of GrantCraft at the Foundation Center. She previously served as global head of philanthropic services for the J.P. Morgan Private Bank, program officer for youth development and education at The Robin Hood Foundation, and director of communications and government relations at Philanthropy New York. Follow her on Twitter at @howtogive and @grantcraft.