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4 Ways Software Enables Agile Philanthropy

Agile Philanthropy and the Pillars of SAFe

We’ve recently published a few blogs around Trust and Transparency Through an Agile Mindset and how the 4 Pillars of SAFe relate to agile philanthropy (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, start here). As a tech company, we would be remiss if we didn’t share information about software’s role in this journey. Particularly in the current state of the world, we would not have been able to go through our SAFe training, plan our next steps, or even publish this content were it not for the software solutions we use.

While there are specific tools designed to help technology teams run on an agile framework, the tools used in business, and more specifically, philanthropy look different. That said, you’ll want to keep the same goals top of mind when considering an investment in technology to take your organization in an agile direction.

4 Software Requirements for Agile Philanthropy

Track Historical Data
Agility can do nothing if you’re not reporting. To report, you need historical data. A system continually collects this data through each one of your processes so you can look back and see how you’re doing.

Part of the agile framework is the concept of “relentless improvement.” Even a minor improvement is still a trend to the betterment of your organization and your mission. Tracking historical data helps you measure results and evaluate outcomes. Without data and information, this tracking and reporting becomes anecdotal and subjective, rather than rooted in facts.

Housing this information in a database allows you to have confidence in the data and the ability to report on it for a variety of purposes and audiences. For example, looking at reports about community served may help you realize a key demographic is not being represented in your giving and make adjustments accordingly.

Eliminate Biased Practices
Particularly for those organizations tasked with following donor intent or specific giving guidelines, you must decentralize decision making and build-in processes to break down hidden bias.

For example, if Donor X has specified that their funds be used for scholarships to underprivileged youth in the greater Chicago area meeting criteria X, Y, and Z - you’d better ensure that happens if you want to keep that donor around and giving. If your board is subjectively reviewing each application and making its own decisions, you are not meeting donor intent. Even with the best of intentions and the most open minds, we’re human. We are often not aware of our biases and powerless to weed them out of our decision-making.

However, if you have acceptance criteria built into an eligibility quiz or a Universal Application format, the bias is removed. Only those students who meet all of the base-line acceptance criteria will be in the pool for your board to evaluate. This practice not only removes bias but gives your board the confidence that they are upholding donor intent to the best of their ability and allows them to evaluate without second-guessing their decisions.

To take bias removal even further, set up systems to anonymize data. Prevent committee or board members from seeing applicant names or remove donor names from online grant catalogs. This ensures decisions are made based on acceptance criteria and not swayed by any personal bias.

Build-in Quality
When you’re using a system designed for your work, you can track changes. When a status on a grant changes, the system will have audit logs tracking who made the change and when. You can also implement permissions for who can approve a payment versus only make payment requests.

By having a system in place, you can remove human error, particularly in scenarios where approval processes used to mean moving folders full of paper from one desk to another (virtual or otherwise). Setting required fields is another way to put a system to work in your quality control. This practice helps you ensure data isn’t entered incorrectly or information is missing - meaning better, more accurately informed decisions.

Removing the burden of responsibility from people to have everything “perfect” is a sure way to boost morale and allow your staff to focus on human connections and the work that fires them up.

What can you automate and take off of people? What doesn’t need to be human? This goal allows you to focus more time, energy, and continual improvement on the areas where you truly need a human, like one-on-one grantee interactions or qualitative program reviews.

A natural stage in your processes to automate is your modes of communication. Should your staff be standing at a printer? Stuffing envelopes? Using an appropriate solution means email notifications and reminders to your grantees can be automated, and an integrated fund accounting and CRM tool sends donation emails automatically… eliminating time-consuming tasks that take you and your staff away from the mission at hand.

Accounting practices and tracking is a distinct area where automation is a crucial component. Double entry (manually!) means extra work, increased opportunity for human error, and decreased controls. Whatever is happening in your accounting system should be simultaneously happening in your CRM. I.e., Donor X makes a donation, which is automatically entered into the ledger and the profile’s history. Similarly, what happens in your grants management system should flow through to accounting.


You want your organization to run smoothly and react to change (whether good or bad) smoothly and efficiently. Systems help you do that. Before you jump into agility or spend time trying to make manual tasks more efficient, explore the possibility of a technology solution built for your needs.

For more information on agile methodologies and Foundant’s journey to agility, visit these resources:

Trust and Transparency Through an Agile Mindset: Part 1 Trust and Transparency Through an Agile Mindset: Part 2 Trust and Transparency Through an Agile Mindset: Part 3 Trust and Transparency Through an Agile Mindset Agile Philanthropy and the Pillars of SAFe Agile Philanthropy: An Organizational Mindset

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