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Trust and Transparency Through an Agile Mindset

Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.

If you can’t be agile and responsive in software development you’re behind before you begin. Over the past year, Foundant has been adopting the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) Methodology in our development processes. As our product and development teams walked through this process, we began to ask ourselves . . . How can agile apply to non-technology solutions? How does it apply to marketing or client services? How about in terms of philanthropic sector grantmaking, fundraising, or donor services?

The term agile might conjure visions of constant change and movement from one direction to the next. In actuality, the goal of an agile framework is predictability. You know how much time and effort it takes for certain tasks - i.e., “we’ve agreed to get X number of grant agreements out the door by the end of the month” - and it helps to plan around these known constants. Because you’ve tracked and planned, you know what it takes to deliver on those promises; which also means you know what you can and cannot do when pivoting becomes necessary.

While agility is important when things are constant and it’s business as usual, it becomes essential when the plan must change as it has for so many organizations in 2020. It allows you to weigh priorities and identify work as it relates to your core values and mission, and, in turn, helps to create trust and transparency for all of your stakeholders.

As we continue working through this process at Foundant, we plan to share our experience through a series of blog posts, webinars, and other story-sharing opportunities. As we gear up to create this content, let’s first explore the early stages of an Agile Mindset.

Find and Define the Work

How often have you put in your 8-10 hours of work for the day and then, sitting at home chatting with your family, realize you have no idea what you accomplished? It happens to all of us . . . you responded to emails, answered the phone, reviewed content for a grantee celebration . . . unless you were under a tight and definitive deadline, you were probably “content switching” the entire day.

A “content switch” is the act of moving from one task to another without really putting the original task in a state of “done.” There are times when this is simply the nature of your work. But, if you take steps to define your work you will see the content review took two hours of your time, the email a full hour, and phone interviews at least three. Some things - i.e., answering emails or team management - are never really finished, but when you find and define work, you can then get into the practice of defining “done.” This will help to know when it can move on to the next stage or be picked up in a separate piece of effort.

Understand your Capacity, Load, and the Allocation of Your Time 

Capacity is how much time you have to commit to work. Let’s go with a standard 40 hours each week. The amount of work you have planned is your Load. Let’s say you plan for 20 hours of work. This doesn’t mean you only have 20 hours worth of work to do, but you’re not planning out that entire 40 hours because you know you need to account for unplanned stuff that pops up. For each person and for every time of year this allocation looks different.

Example: At Foundant, our engineers normally plan at 80/20; that’s 80% planned work and 20% unplanned. However, during our first cycle with the Universal Application functionality, we planned 60/40 with the understanding that this was brand new territory, things were going to come up, and we’d need to respond.

Now, what happens when your ratio breaches 100%? Maybe there is a new initiative thrown your way. In some mindsets, the only option is to work extra hours. But in the Agile Mindset, People and Culture are at the core of decision making. Sometimes the extra hours are necessary. However, if this becomes the norm, it is not sustainable and, therefore, does not align with an Agile Mindset. At this point, a tough conversation around prioritization needs to take place. If a new initiative or project is going to happen, it might take the place of something else that was planned. Stakeholders need to understand this shift in priority. It’s helpful to think about just two factors: Business Value (or, in your case, Community/Mission Value) and Cost of Delay.

In the current global climate, many organizations have made priority changes to align with the Community and Mission Value in an effort to offer assistance such as new relief funds or collaborative applications. These initiatives have a high current value and also come with a high cost of delay (i.e., not responding to the crisis in a timely manner). But it’s important to remember that when those programs came on board, others came off. Making this shift quickly is the beauty of an agile mindset. But we can’t lose sight of the other key component - communication through shared objectives and goals.

In the meantime, learn more from the resources below or register for our upcoming webinar with our partners at Exponent Philanthropy.


Webinar: Trust and Transparency Through an Agile Mindset provides a plethora of information and resources so you can dive deep and get to know this topic intimately!

Our friend and partner, Diane H. Leonard of Agile in Nonprofits provides agile resources specific to the philanthropic sector, has presented on agile frameworks for us in the past, and will be presenting again later this month on Being an Agile Leader in Your Nonprofit (Regardless of Your Title).

About the Author

In her time with Foundant (since 2011) Sammie Holzwarth has taken on many roles in her path to becoming the Product Manager of Grants & Scholarships. Starting as an intern with Foundant’s Marketing Team, Sammie then moved into a Client Success Manager role - successfully implementing well over 150 clients. Her Foundant adventure next took her to the Sales Team as Foundant’s GLM/SLM Product Implementation Engineer. Her breadth of knowledge and extensive experience working with a plethora of clients and in varying roles at Foundant fuels her passion and excitement to continually improve GLM/SLM, and herself which she now brings to her role as the Product Manager for Grants and Scholarships! Sammie has a passion for youth philanthropy and has spearheaded the Youth Giving Project in Bozeman, MT as well as serving as an Exponent Philanthropy Next Gen Fellow for 2016. Montana holds a special place in Sammie’s heart as she is a born and raised Montanan; from rolling plains to mountain tops, this is where she feels most at home and takes every opportunity to soak in the outdoors. When traveling beyond the Big Sky State, Sammie loves anywhere with a vibrant culture, and delicious food. Connect with Sammie directly at or on twitter @SammieHolzwarth.

Profile Photo of Sammie Holzwarth