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. ~Agile Alliance
In agile, the priority is “Respect for People and Culture,” which directly aligns with Foundant’s core values. As discussed in part two of this blog series, Foundant made some major pivots during March of 2020 in direct response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. We had a different plan in place earlier in the year, but choosing to do what was right for our people and culture (both internally and externally) was a no-brainer.
In order to respect people and culture when a new initiative is defined a pivot is needed. It is just that -- a pivot, not additional work. As our marketing team got busy writing and curating content specific to COVID, we knew this couldn’t become added work. Something had to go.
While two important videos for our scholarship website and some sales resources were negotiated to later dates, we knew it was the right thing to do - for both our teams and our community. Keeping our people and culture top of mind allowed us to pivot in a way that didn’t “break” anyone or any team.
When making a pivot, transparency and communication are key. Within the business, stakeholders know what to prioritize and what to deprioritize.
Staying the Course
While it’s important to know when to pivot, it’s equally important to know when to stay the course. It would have made short term sense to pull our L&D (Learning and Development) Team off of software training materials and, instead, focused on creating best practice guides and videos related to COVID funding. However, at the beginning of the year, we had set a company-wide goal to overhaul our learning system. This had been identified as a need internally and, more importantly, a necessity to set our clients up to be as successful as possible. At the end of the day, the cost to delay our initial L&D initiative was too high to pivot. Trying to chase all of the “pivot opportunities” would have resulted in some serious missteps.
What did this look like in the Philanthropic Community?
While our Marketing Team was able to pivot and start offering COVID related content, our L&D Team stayed the course. Similarly, there were some funders able to pivot and start offering COVID related funding, while it made more sense for others to stick to their original plans. These pivots happen in a variety of different ways. For some funders, the pivot was to move up all grantmaking that was scheduled to happen in 2020 to the first half of the year, for others it was funding their same grantees but removing requirements of the grant. An example of a more strategic pivot would be, funders who support salad bars in school cafeterias redefined the objects of these grants from the number of students eating at the salad bar to the number of sack lunches provided.
For those giving in human services, these pivots were easy to see and address. On the other hand, funders in climate change might have adjusted funding deadlines or requirements of the application, their overall funding strategy stayed the course. After all, if everyone pivots, what happens to the funding areas that get left behind? You may fill an immediate need, but you wind up leaving serious gaps in future initiatives.
Understanding Resource Allocation
While a lot of this sounds great that you can stay the course or move things off your plate, sometimes that isn’t realistic. For many in our client services group they continued to have the ‘normal’ volume of client support demands, yet, client questions around COVID were coming at an ever-increasing frequency. To stay aligned with respect for people and culture, those questions couldn’t just go unanswered. So how do we accomplish both goals, that are an equal priority?
At Foundant, it meant getting creative and looking outside the silo of client services and thinking about who now had less on their plate and could step in and help. In this scenario, resource allocation helped us. I have seen many clients get creative with new funding via the CAREs Act. For some, they have been lucky to have volunteers or partners help them manage these programs. In other situations, they have looked at technical resources . . . i.e., new funds to disperse means more time spent when using a paper or pdf model, so they look to buy a grants management solution like GLM.
In our situation, it might have been “easy” for us to pivot our L&D team in the short term and solve immediate needs, but that would not have been a solution for all parties and, in reality, would have created more work for others and problems down the road. By stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, we were actually able to become more customer-focused and find a way to help our community come together and share solutions.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about our agile journey thus far and look forward to sharing more! We’ll continue to update this blog series with resources as we learn and grow through this process.
AgileAlliance.org 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).