We talked with funders working in the US, Europe, and internationally about when, why, and how it’s useful to scan the landscape for new ideas and new directions. This updated edition of a 2004 GrantCraft guide reflects key changes in philanthropy, from the rise of social media to a growing tendency to scan continuously for changes and opportunities.
Facebook, Google Alerts, Twitter, blogs, and other social media activity: To “track the pulse” of activity in education policy, one American grantmaker regularly follows a select group of blogs and Twitter feeds, “not just by policy wonks but by teachers and others whose opinions I respect, on both sides of many arguments, although they can be very ideological sometimes.”Read More »
If you’re looking for a unique niche or an opportunity to align and collaborate with others, a scan can uncover who else is supporting work in a particular field or geographic area. But a scan can yield more than a census of funding sources. Scanning techniques can help get below the surface of other funders’ interests, build relationships, and sharpen your own ongoing strategy development.Read More »
Seek out contrary points of view. It’s essential to hear from people you don’t agree with, and to find out what they read, whom they talk to, and where they get their information. One funder explained his approach: “I’m always open to talking with people I don’t agree with because I want to learn what their position is.Read More »
When program officers from two foundations decided to team up to hire an expert consulting group for a scan that would serve the learning needs of both, they put their heads together to decide what research questions to ask. Later, as the results came in, they conferred frequently with the consultants about what the research was uncovering and what further questions to ask. One described the process:Read More »
A funder who works on school reform in the United States was curious to know more about a set of activities known variously as “next generation learning,” “blended learning,” “e-learning,” and “technology-enhanced learning.” “We wanted to understand how the terms were being used,” she noted, “and what was happening in the field — in terms of supply and demand— so we could test our hypotheses about how it all related to new school designs. We knew we needed some market research and analysis done, and that we couldn’t possibly get it done with our internal team.”Read More »
If you’re new to philanthropy, switching from the viewpoint of a practitioner to that of a funder means looking at the issues in a different way. Scanning techniques can help you understand what your potential role might be. As a new funder working in the area of children and families observed, “Before I took this job, I had worked for an advocacy organization in my field, so I knew what the issues were. But as a grantmaker, I had to think about things in a very different way. Now I had to think about, what’s the value added of our foundation’s money? How can our resources make a difference?”Read More »
Finding a Strategic Direction: Foundations differ dramatically in how, why, and how often they establish new priorities and guidelines. Whatever the circumstances, the quest for a new approach — whether precipitated by a perceived opportunity, a request from the board, the planned sunset of an existing program, or the appointment of a new president — usually starts with a scan.Read More »
Scanning does more than gather data; it makes connections. As a program officer at an American regional foundation described it, “Scanning is about more than just plucking information. The process of conducting a scan can help you develop relationships and connect more deeply with the grantee community.” A scan can help you:Read More »
A way to see more broadly. Scanning can help you learn about a new field or stay on top of new developments in an ongoing program area. As one funder put it, “Every foundation has its own culture with preconceived notions of what the immediate needs are. It’s essential to get a broader perspective.” A U.S.-based program officer who supports workforce development reported that a scan turned up a completely new, unexpected direction. “Until we had our focus groups, I hadn’t realized how important organized labor would be in my work. That was not something I came to the grantmaker role with.”Read More »
Susan Jenkins, executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation: I’ve studied social networking, and I know there’s a lot of technology out there.Read More »
Mary Kaplan, vice president of program at the Endowment for Health in Concord, New Hampshire: We struggle personally to do all the listening sessions in a one-month period. It’s grueling and exhausting to listen.Read More »
Mary Kaplan, vice president of program at the Endowment for Health in Concord, New Hampshire: We listen to those. Sometimes people have trouble articulating something bigger than what’s going on with them.Read More »
Joy Vermillion Heinsohn, program officer at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation: Sometimes panel members give us a heads up about something that’s going to happen.Read More »
Marion Kane, executive director of the Barr Foundation: I started with the foundation’s own staff. When I interviewed potential staff members, I asked them about their networks.Read More »
Joy Vermillion Heinsohn, program officer at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation: We’ve had an advisory panel for over 25 years. There are fifteen members, and five of them are selected and five rotate off per year.Read More »
This guide is designed to help you at different times, as your interests (or those of your field) grow and change — including:
In addition to using the guide to think about and plan a scan, you may want to share the entire guide, or specific sections, with key partners, such as:
You may also find it useful to share the guide with trustees and other decision makers at your foundation, to help illustrate how the process of scanning can be conducted and why it's valuable.
Please see the guided reading content associated with this guide for a sample reflection on practice exercise.