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Sam Caplan and Satonya Fair
Join Submittable for an in-depth Q&A between Satonya Fair, President and CEO at PEAK Grantmaking, and Sam Caplan, VP of Social Impact at Submittable, focused on philanthropy’s past, present, and future.
At its best, philanthropy is dynamic—ever-evolving as a field, attentive to community, and attractive to professionals from many walks of life. In this episode of Impact Audio, you’ll hear directly from two veterans in the sector: Satonya Fair and Sam Caplan. Their in-depth conversation includes:
What it’s like to heed a philanthropic calling
PEAK Grantmaking’s past and future
Where the field at large is heading and how technology fits in
What smart giving entails (with kudos to Mackenzie Scott)
Full of great takeaways for professionals in grantmaking and social impact roles, as well as in-depth personal reflections, this episode has a little something for everyone. We hope you enjoy it.
Sam Caplan is the Vice President of Social Impact at Submittable. Inspired by the amazing work performed by grantmakers of all stripes, at Submittable, Sam strives to help them achieve their missions through better, more effective software. Sam has served as founder of New Spark Strategy, Chief Information Officer at the Walton Family Foundation, and director of technology at the Walmart Foundation. He consults, advises, and writes prolifically on social impact technology, strategy, and innovation. Sam recently published a series of whitepapers with the Technology Association of Grantmakers titled “The Strategic Role of Technology in Philanthropy.”
Satonya Fair is the President and CEO of PEAK Grantmaking. Over the past 25 years in the nonprofit and philanthropic space, she has cultivated deep expertise on the funder landscape, nonprofit structures, compliance, change management, philanthropy technology, and knowledge management, allowing her to navigate strategic efforts on many fronts, including diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. Prior to PEAK, Satonya served as Vice President and Chief Philanthropy Officer at The Executive Leadership Council, where she developed and launched a philanthropic engagement strategy; Director of Grants Management at The Annie E. Casey Foundation; and at Citi, where she supported community relations and foundation giving.
Here’s the perfect reading to learn more about PEAK Grantmaking:
Introducing PEAK's Next Chapter, Satonya Fair
Satonya Fair's Note of Gratitude to Mackenzie Scott
PEAK's 2020 Annual Report: Meeting the Moment
25 Years of PEAK, looking back at pivotal moments in our history through a timeline, videos, and short stories
Introduction to the five Principles for Peak Grantmaking
PEAK Grantmaking Journal: Career Journeys in Philanthropy
Here are the organizations Satonya and Sam refer to, in the order they are mentioned:
Interested in more quality content for grantmakers? Here are a few Submittable resources:
The Review (Bi-monthly newsletter by Sam Caplan)
Welcome to Submittable’s Impact Audio. I’m Rachel Mindell. Impact Audio features short conversations (and a few longer ones) with social impact experts and practitioners. We cover the world of philanthropy, nonprofits, corporate citizenship, and social change.
We’re thrilled to bring you our first full-length episode—an exclusive conversation between Sam Caplan, vice president of social impact here at Submittable, and Satonya Fair, President and CEO at PEAK Grantmaking.
For context, PEAK Grantmaking is a vibrant member-led community of 6,000 philanthropy professionals dedicated to advancing equitable, effective grantmaking practices.
Satonya Fair has over 25 years of experience working in nonprofit and philanthropic roles. Prior to joining Peak, she served as Vice President and Chief Philanthropy Officer at The Executive Leadership Council. She was formerly the Director of Grants Management at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and previously served in management roles at Citi, supporting community relations and foundation giving. Satonya holds a JD from the University of Cincinnati. She is also an inspirational leader, incredible force for good, and delightful individual—if you don’t already know her, you’ll definitely want to after listening in.
Sam Caplan brings 20 years experience as a philanthropy and technology leader to his role at Submittable. Formerly the CIO of the Walton Family Foundation and prior to that the head of technology for the Walmart Foundation, most recently, Sam founded and ran New Spark Strategy, a consulting firm serving the philanthropic sector. Submittable is so lucky to have him on our team.
You’ll hear Satonya and Sam discuss their journeys into the world of philanthropy. They share their perspectives from the inside, exploring how to build relationships, strategies to ensure equity, and what’s on the horizon in the grantmaking sphere. You’ll also hear about PEAK Grantmaking’s recent award from Mackenzie Scott. We hope you enjoy listening in.
Alright. Satonya Fair, welcome to our inaugural episode of Impact Audio from Submittable. And I am super excited that you are my very first guest, welcome.
Thank you, Sam. Thank you so much. This is just a pleasure. You know, you're one of my favorite people. So I'm just excited to be in communication and in conversation with you. So, thank you.
Nice. Well, I'm glad that's recorded for posterity now. So everybody will know when I say that we're friends now that we can…we can direct them right back to the audio here. So we've been at this for a while having the way we have had the chance to present together at a PEAK conference, a TAG conference, I think. We've you know, we've bumped into each other for many years in the…in the philanthropies space and have grown to be friends as well as work colleagues and them. I can't tell you just how excited I was… to see you take the reins at PEAK. So, how has it been going for you over the last? How long has it been now, a year?
It's been 11 months. We're almost right there. So just shy of an official year, started in August. So it's been, it's been amazing. It's been a journey. I have to tell you. I think that this is an interesting time to be a human being in the world with the pandemic. The country has been a bit unsettled in addition to the pandemic. So, I think whenever one takes a new job in the middle of like a major crisis, like a pandemic, it's always interesting. But I'm just, I'm so intrigued by the philanthropic sector and, you know me, we’ve been at this for a long time. This is my passion. It's my nerd topic. It is the thing that I feel like I've made place and space in my existence to go deep in this area. So it's really nice to be working from a different vantage point at PEAK right now, having been a board member and had that service time and been engaged for some time. It's just been an interesting arc to come here and be looking at philanthropy from this different lens as opposed to being within big philanthropy. And so I have found it to be extremely intriguing. And I'm learning so many new things every day about myself and just in general about the sector.
So I've just, I've really enjoyed it. It's been not easy. Not hard. It's come with its challenges. And its amazing opportunities. The last month has been all a lot of opportunity. We've had an exciting time but it's just, it's a blessing that's the way I kinda wake up.
I say today I want to come to PEAK Grantmaking and I tried to make it a great day because I'm not sure I'll be here tomorrow. That's the way I approach life every day, Sam.
That's awesome. So, you know, like, so for me, I had been in software development like my whole career. Like, you know, I… I was an English major a million years ago. I came within like a week of graduation and realized I had like really no marketable skills and I found my way into software development as a tech writer. And then I kept getting these amazing opportunities and like project management and like leading development teams.
And eventually I made my way to the Walmart Foundation as the director of technology and data analytics and said, that was like my, you know, my entry into philanthropy. And it was at that moment that I totally found my calling. Like I knew on my first day of working for the Walmart Foundation, that I was destined to spend the rest of my career and philanthropy. And I felt like I finally discovered what my calling was. Like tell me your story. When did you know that, like, philanthropy was your calling?
Wow. Well, one, I just, I love your story, thank you for sharing that with you because I don't know if I fully knew that. I think I met you when you were, you know, you had two feet planted on the ground in philanthropy; you were all in.
For my story is not unsimilar right? Like I thought I was going to go and be the judge somewhere working in a juvenile justice magistrate. That's where I started, the plan all along was to go from college to law school and then to think about how to really cut my teeth and be able to do that work really well and either being family court or be a juvenile justice magistrate. I say magistrate because in Ohio, there's different terminology in different places. So I got, I will tell you my first semester in law school, working as a law student, which they don't like the first year because it is hard. And so I walked in, I was like, look, I'm gonna need no less than three jobs and probably a couple of really, you know, some grants in addition to my other scholarships to get through this. And they were like, you can't work. And I was like, yes, I can. But what I found was that I needed to find things that were complimentary. And so I carved out these kinds of part-time jobs.
One of my part-time jobs was with the Children's Defense Fund which at the time was still headquartered in Cincinnati and they were working on the legislation that was to become the child health insurance program. So there was the state health insurance program, but really digging into the Children’s Defense Fund and Leave No Child Behind in that we needed to be providing better protections for low-income children and families, right? And so that I was like, you all will pay me to help you write policy papers? And I'm not one the clock? I can work whenever I want? The invitation also came with going to the Hayley Farm down in Tennessee to be with Marian and her team. And it came with like the black judges forum and everything else. Well, they were the ones who really explained this thing like philanthropy behind the scenes. So I’m in law school, I'm hearing people talk about, you know, how to raise money and get support and everything like that. So I saw what was happening with the Children's Defense Fund and leading up to the march for children that happened. And I knew that there was this machine of money and wealth that came behind really great causes that made total sense to me, but it really wasn't until like, and I did, I like use like, I am not going to be a lawyer by the end of the first year, I was like, I'm done, this is not happen for me. But I can be legal adjacent and I can still do work that supports kids and families, maybe not be this juvenile court or family magistrate, but I can do some work that helps the same people in a different way.
And so, I got out into the community, left law school, and within a year had landed a job doing the school attendance program, in Cincinnati Public Schools to Hamilton county juvenile court. And that was like it. I was given 30,000 dollars and then they paid my salary, but I was given 30,000 dollars and they were like, you're gonna have to make do with us to do all the stuff you need. So I very quickly said, wait a minute. There's companies in downtown Cincinnati. They're wealthy people and I started trying to figure out who can give me money to help support my kids and families and the programs I want. And so it was an early entry fit. Third Bank is one of my first grants that I ever got in Cincinnati and then they also did a pledge to their, they said we're going to go to our employees and ask them if they will provide supplies for your kids. And I was like really? And they were like, yes, employee engagement is really important to us. And so I very naturally, through wanting to help kids and families in Cincinnati, I kinda got inducted into community relations and foundation relations because that is how they were helping me… and soon… and soon… and soon I got more knowledge, you more knowledge. And eventually I was like, I want to go, what’s this thing over here? What's the other side? And could I be more effective if I was on the side of where the wealth is sitting and where the resources are sitting? Could I be just as effective as I've been doing direct service and really doing case management with these families? And so I put the question out there. And eventually somebody called and said, do you want to do this thing? I’m leaving my job. You want it? Okay. I'll help you out and very quickly I was sitting in a community relations office looking around saying my gosh we have resources. What can we do in Baltimore? Because that's where I was at that point. But that's my arc, it was very, kind of haphazard, but I figured out that folks have some money and some resources and my kids needed a lot. And I needed to learn how to ask for money and also get them engaged. I needed them to come to the school. I needed them to be interested in my kids and my families because it wasn't just about writing the check. It really was about coming in and being able to provide some additional time and resources. Another thing that a lot of the kids didn't have from different types of professionals and adults around them. And so that’s how I kind of fell into this. And once I was in I was like, I'm never leaving.
Yeah, that's an amazing story. And I didn't realize that you have this nonprofit fundraiser, you know, programmatic background yourself. And I've always been so impressed by them and when I was at the Walton Family Foundation, there were a lot of program officers that had come from the nonprofit side of the house and they sort of have made that switch over to that to the funder side. And I always felt like there was something really special and unique about those program officers because they really understood the people that they were working with and the communities that they were working with.
They understood the value of a general operating grant, versus stipulating how many dollars had to be used. So I think it makes perfect sense as… as I have gotten to know you to like now be able to start putting the pieces together. So I know you made your way to The Annie E. Casey Foundation. So once you were on the funder side, like to your earlier question, like do you feel like you were, you know, sort of effective as a grant manager, as effective as you were when you were working on the nonprofit side?
I do… I do for sure like my first two roles before Casey. Casey was my first private foundation role. My first two are community relations at the Baltimore Sun, which at the time was still owned by Times Mirror company. And so still big newspaper, that is still when the newspapers were still quite powerful and the money behind it, the families that bring big news to local communities.
I was able to really be kind of part of that. And then I went to Citi Group. So at Citi Group is where I really understood the public private piece of it, the investment side of the house, how money gets invested to net the wealth that needs to then get turned out into the world. I learned that Citi and going, so going to Casey, Sam, was this like aha moment because, you know, when you're in corporate, you get what you get. It's a bit of a scarcity model too, like you get a budget, you get a whatever, but you gotta do a lot and you're asked also to pull in every possible talent you could have to just get the work done right? And so I… I felt like I was being very effective at helping kids and families, but you also have to be really effective at helping ensure that profit is coming to your business and that you are protecting the reputation and the brand of the org.
So what I did was I was like I'm…I'm a cost center when you're giving money away your cost center. So I really turn that into like my job is to ensure that kids and families and the people that, everyone at the center of the mission of these different organizations that work for are helped as much as possible. But what I thought I learned especially from that first foray with Third was that I needed to engage the employees and being and community relations, you are able to grab the people and say, hey, I've got a reading program over here.
I've got this program. We need employees to leave work and go out into the community because that is just as powerful as us writing checks to important causes. And so really what I thought I was really good at was getting the executive leadership like nerded out on some nonprofit that was doing some great work. And showing up and being like we're going to just because bureau, you're going to go talk to them and they will be like, yeah, it gets fun communities. So I get the editors at The Baltimore Sun excited to go out and do a project or go speak to some group that was really trying to figure out this thing or the employees like you're going to go read to the children at home on Wednesdays at nine o'clock in the morning. You and your group are going to go out and do this thing and we're going to build brands in capital, ally community in addition to the money we give away. And that's where I felt like I was really effective was bringing the whole suite of resources.
And when I got to Casey because Casey had such a large employee workforce, I was able to really work with the leadership team to kind of replicate that; the energy had already started that we needed to be out in community differently more. But we were big enough to really almost have a community relations type program, in service of volunteerism and all the employee engagements. Let's go out and do kickball for charity like whatever. Like let's leave the building not just for the work stuff. Let's leave the building for things that are more complimentary to community and let's let the community get to know us in Baltimore. And so it's… it's been absolutely wonderful.
So I feel like I was effective but I was effective at marshaling a suite of resources in addition to those financial resources that we know nonprofits need—restricted, unrestricted, programmatic, or just like an endorsement sometimes saying we support this nonprofit is all they need to be able to just run with something and so just bringing that altogether, but also giving them those people, you know, nonprofits are scarce and they don't have a lot of people and resources. So being able to say, hey, I've got like five employees, who’ll come volunteer for a few hours. That was like golden and they could write, they could write down like, okay, this is how much that would cost had that been staff time. And they could turn that into the story around how the nonprofit needed to grow or build its capacity, or how it was using volunteers.
So I felt like it was probably almost more effective to be honest with you, Sam, because it wasn't just me trying to help the kids and families who needed a whole bunch of stuff. I was doing a patchwork quilt of resources around them as best I could, relying on lots of great people, great information to help provide services. When I got into the other side, I could bring financial, but then I could also bring a different suite of services into community. And so in some ways it was almost maybe a little bit more bang for the buck and definitely the longevity because a lot of the funders, I work for—Citi, The Sun, Casey, they're in…they're in it to win it. So they don't drop in, do a grant, and disappear. They're really into seeing change happen. And so it was really nice to have been you know fortunate enough to work for organizations that were not transactional in their grantmaking.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And say, like, you know, your superpower is around like marshaling resources and bringing people together, right? And like, you know, now that you're in this role at PEAK that's, I think what you get to do every day, right? Like you're bringing together all these amazing resources throughout the like community of grants administrators and grants management and philanthropy at large. So it sounds like everything that you did like in your prior roles has led up to the opportunity to sort of take the reins at PEAK and start leading the organization in the next 25 years.
Yeah. I like to think that I am just like when I went into corporate using everything I've got and everything that's really been invested in me. I've worked for organizations that really took training and professional development in that capacity building for individuals very seriously. And I thank them, I'll use this opportunity, just thank every place I've ever worked for… or just investing and me to have more skill, more talent, know a little bit about comms, a little bit about the writing, know a little bit about this because then you sometimes look around and go my gosh, I'm in a role now where I can be a complement maybe to what my comms and marketing team is doing because I actually get it. And I know how to do this strategically because someone me. And the same thing with marshaling executive leadership to get behind a thing and come together; that's so important right now as we sit as a group of, you know, philanthropies supporting organizations. It's a small group of us in the big universe of nonprofits. And so we do have to marshall our best strength sometimes together to move things forward or to get the word out to others to then act on it. So, I do feel like I am trying to bring all of my talents to the table and learn new along the way because I do think with leadership, you're not done, you can get to the top. You can be the President of the United States. You better still be learning and if you're not, problematic.
Alright. So let's talk about PEAK a little bit. So you joined the organization, I know that you had a history with PEAK for…for many years before becoming a paid employee. So before we take a look at the future, like let's talk about the first 25 years of PEAK. So, my colleague Rachel made this amazing point that like in philanthropy, we spend so much time talking about impact, but I tend to think about impact in terms of the impact that a grant made, the impact that nonprofit makes in terms of programmatic work. But I also believe that PEAK has had a really tremendous impact on its membership and the foundations and grantmaking organizations that it works with. So like what would you, how would you summarize, you know, the first 25 years in terms of the impact that you think PEAK has made across the sector?
Well, I appreciate Rachel for raising that and I appreciate your question because we've recently kind of named like PEAK stands for this thing, right? And the piece that's there are around advocacy. If I were to think about the last 25 years, and we are blessed to still have three of our four founders with us in communication with us all the time. They were trying to get enough information from each other to really be able to represent their organizations super well. To really figure out how we move money the most efficient way. But they didn't have real job descriptions and all these things. And so it was like truly a movement of individuals trying to use themselves as an internal set of resources to do their jobs better and then collectively to do better and then philanthropy to move money better and…better and better.
But I always think about the first 25 years as being a lot about the individual and almost like the team advocacy because there were people who were wondering like why am I in philanthropy? Like what am I doing? And how have I done now been tasked to go from the role that I had, which in some ways it's, you know a lot of people started administrative roles back in the day and people just didn't understand the complexity. You're in technology, I have some technology connections. It is not simple to move money from a small entity or a large entity well out into the community. And I think that we were trying to support the individuals to stay in it and to really grow and learn their skills. And then to be like, wait a minute. I think we're landing on the best practice or two of how maybe many of us could do this similarly, better, different, and so I do think we started very much of like Margaret and Orneda and Ursula trying to figure out just like problems solve. And then they were like, wait a minute—we're figuring some stuff out. We need to spread the word and spread the word and spread the word. And it started the New York chapter. And that New York chapter became so pivotal in our history really saying, you know, what we are landing on some things and we're also discovering things that just don't work and we need to figure out how to move the field past that. Because so much of the early work was just about really recognition of the complexity of may have what it takes to move money out in the community well, I think it was about individuals and keeping them supported and moving forward step-by-step and really building the profession.
We sit here now 6,000 members deep because of the individuals who came together to come up with this fabric of this tapestry that we now have as PEAK Grantmaking was, but I do think there was a very much an early story about what is this? What is grantmaking? What are the proper roles? How should we be titled? Compensated? Developed? How do we work together? How do we create best practices, and how do we influence the field and find our voice? So, to me the first 25 years was both personal and kind of a smaller story, but look at what's happened over the last 10 plus years since you and I have known each other around how the community has really come together to truly influence the sector. It's been an amazing run so far. I can't wait to see what happens in the next 25.
I know, you know, it's so funny because I, as you mentioned, I've been on the technology side for most of my career and in one of my roles, I had the opportunity to lead a small team of grants administrators. And, you know, I realized on day two, I was like, my God, what have I done? Like I had, even though I had been like, you know, attending PEAK faithfully every year, I'd taken the grants management 101 course. Like I kinda felt like I had an idea of what grants managers did in their role and all of a sudden I was overwhelmed with like no-cost extensions and expenditure responsibility and fiscal sponsorship. And I was like, these are the most talented people in the entire organization. I mean on a daily basis, they have legal coming to them to ask, okay, tell me how this works again? Like if it was just incredible, but like, I think that's what I credit PEAK for over the first 25 years is like it developed this incredible body of knowledge around grants management.
And it took like all of these people who as you said, had sort of joined a lot of different organizations and a very highly administrative role and it helped them develop their expertise on their skills and their competencies and their knowledge. And, you know, sort of become things like extremely valuable resources and I’ll say one thing like I certainly hope in the next 25 years that we begin to see the role of grants administrators and branch managers, really become more appreciated for everything they know and everything they do than they have over the first step, you know, part of my career. Where in many cases they're kind have looked at in terms being like programmatic assistance or something. And the reality is grants administrators, I think that role is every bit as challenging and complex as any other role at a grantmaking organization.
Well, hear, hear, to everything you just said because it is truly and I mean, we know there are different types of organizations, different types of entities, sizes. There is a complexity to doing this right and well. And I think for you, what I would say is as you came into this, I appreciate you pointing out like I had gotten my education and then I was like what’s happening? But also I think what's been really interesting is that there is space for everyone. Your contribution from that tech lens has been significant; it’s how you and I initially kind of came together in this universe with like trying to figure some things out. You all, we're doing some different things that Walton and we were doing some different things that Casey and it was like wait a minute, let's put our heads together and we were coming from a technology lens, right? And so we were kind of starting there looking at the bigger picture of grants administration at the same time and we were coming up with solutions.
But we were also talking about our people, we were talking about caring for people and supporting people just as much as we were talking about the technology and all of the knowledge that is needed to really do this job well. I feel like there's so much, there's much more space now for the many roles that will come into this conversation. Legal, audit, finance, HR so on and so forth, comms, who are really trying to think about what does the story of our grantmaking. Strategically, where we're going? What are we trying to do? And how do we really use technology and communications to do this better and spread the word wider? And so I always see tech and comms as being so critical to us getting this right? Whether it's a small entity or large. And so, I appreciate that you waded in. Although you were wearing a different type of hat into the conversation because I do believe that PEAK has been made richer by the different people who are leaning in and saying, no, no, there is a place for me in this conversation although I'm not a grants manager or grants administrator. I'm digging what these guys are talking about and how they're pulling this information together to make the field stronger as a result of how they work collaboratively. So thank you, Sam for wading it and then not dropping us.
No. Well, you know what? Like I mean. So you… you and your colleagues put out this amazing publication recently called “Introducing PEAK’s Next Chapter” and you really talk about the values of the organization and the theory of change of the organization and sort of how you're looking to continue influencing philanthropy? And I just loved everything about that. One of the points that you make is that you hope to see the role of grants administrator become a bit more generalist in the sense of developing strategic competencies and learning new skills. And I have to say from the tech side, I see the same thing. More and more technologists are having to really learn the role of what the users of the systems out there are really doing, like how they're really using the technology and how technology can, you know, really unlock the creativity of the organization and provide insights that otherwise would be very difficult to come by. But I see the role of the technologist becoming a little more general as well. So like, maybe how would you recap this “Introducing PEAK’s Next Chapter” in terms of how did you see the organization just continuing to evolve as well as the role of grants administrator evolving?
Yeah. Well, I think, you know, I kinda have a question in that for you as well because it has been an observation by many that in order to be really strong in technology, right? At providing technology solutions, particularly the philanthropic space, the comms piece, right? The administrative piece, the mission work like you gotta show up at those program meetings too; it can’t just all be about the technical solutions that we're utilizing. You really have to understand like what are folks thinking? And I think one of the things that I think we share is that what we're trying to do is move people who have often been at the end of the solution upstream. And so when I think about both what you're presenting as the opportunity area for people in technology. And I think about as an opportunity area for all of those people with the many different titles that are within grants management, grants administration. I think that there's an opportunity for us just to have a wider lens. And so when we talk about building a suite of generalist skills, I think about my own career and I know that I was able to get into more strategic conversations because I was really into the investment side. How do we make our money? How did Casey use 100 to 140 million dollars a year operationally and grantmaking wise?
Like how do we use our money to be able to support that work? So, I think sitting with the investment team was really good for me. I think I understood some things. And going to McArthur and hearing from their investment team, I learned some things that made me think, wait a minute. This is a whole different cache you know, of money that we're utilizing? How is that also coming together with our traditional grantmaking budget which is really under me and my director of finance. We're kind of providing the data analytics around that. How was this story being played out? Are we looking at even the criteria for making grants similarly?
So, I just know that by sitting with HR I learn some things, i.e., how to advocate for my people, how to make sure that my people were properly compensated and recognized and supported. By hanging with the comms people, I said this is really all about message, and about us making sure that what our intentions are are really communicated in a way through our grantmaking that is all aligned.
And so I just found in my own career, by talking to so many people like you, there's more to just the system that moves the grant. And so I do think about the opportunity of supporting our community, and our community’s quite vocal about what they’d like for us to do. And they’re, and they are saying to us, hey, I think I would be really stronger in my role if I understood this piece around, this piece of finance a little bit stronger. Hey PEAK, can you help me? And then we put that on the list and I say, you know what, one of the most complicated things when we're talking about equity is like our HR people are never in the room, like what can we do?
Is there something we can do in our role to really be engaging them differently and more? Even though this is the op side of the house? Like what can we do like, right? And so we add these things to our lists. And so this generalist piece and this kind of expanding the suite of skills that people who consider themselves to be grants administrators and kind of our grants technologist, what they could be is like,maybe we can dribble and drab really core pieces of information that are important to philanthropy, and we can make sure that our folks have easy access to more information about the wide field of philanthropy and not just the role specific because I do think that that's where a lot of us are.
It’s just that we want to have, we want to do our jobs well. Really great. Now, today, this year, meet our objectives. But I'm like, yeah, you can be great role specific, but you can also be great philanthropy specific too. And I think the broader your skills are, the more conversations or the more comfortable you'll be as they invite you to the table because if you get invited to the strategic table, we're really trying to move grants folks further upstream in their own organizations to those tables. You better have something to say when you get there. And if you don't, that's going to be problematic. And so, I do think that is about competencies, and deeper and wider competencies. Just like IT, when you guys get invited. I'm gonna turn that question back to you. You all get invited to certain strategic meetings from an IT perspective. They're talking about a lot of things at those tables: are you lost or you at it?
Yeah, yeah. That is the question. I mean, for many years, I think the one thing that technologists and grants administrators had in common is that we continually focused on the how, right? So like, how do I do my job? You know, how do I improve these processes? How do I manage this change? But we weren't necessarily focused on the why.
And so as we did begin to get invited, you know, to the larger conversations, I think many of us sat there very quiet because we didn't really understand the why of what was being discussed. And I think that for, you know, for some of the people out there that have had the opportunity to take on a more strategic role, from an operations perspective, you know, I think it's because they began focusing on the why opposed to the how.
But I want to circle back some. A moment ago you mentioned equity and I'm so glad you did. Like from my perspective, I think this conversation around equity in philanthropy is probably the most important conversation that we're having as a social sector today. And as I go through, you know, the “Introducing PEAK’s Next Chapter” and many other publications that I see coming from your organization, there's a huge focus on equity right now. So, talk to us a little about, you know, why is equity so important through the lens of PEAK Grantmaking? And then, you know, from a larger perspective, you know, what is your perspective in terms of sort of the why of equity for all of philanthropy?
Well I want to start with where we just were, right? Which is when we get invited to the table, right? Let's talk about how often operations folks are not considered a strategic contributor and how many times we've kind of been pulled where the organizations we work for are going and not even our managers or our VPs, or our execs were kind of part of those longer conversations. They have been very much often driven, and this is not a right or wrong, from the programmatic side. And we've often then being given like, this is what we're doing, Sam, go make it happen from the operations side!
And that to me is about power and that is about voice. And that is about like that dynamic of who’s even worthy of getting invited to the big room. And so when I think about just the every day of what is equity in this space, it is about inclusion. Is my opinion about the direction of our organization—at Casey, at Walton, at PEAK, at Helmsley, at wherever—do you want to hear what I might want to contribute to this or what I could possibly contribute beyond what you think I can?
Just like nonprofits get pigeonholed into what we think they do, and that's it. And I’m going to give you a grant. You're gonna do this thing with this $50,000, if you get 50. You're going to do this thing and this is all you can do with it. It's very restrictive and it's very much through this very narrow lens. When you start to really look at it holistically what a nonprofit is trying to do in a community. And also understand that the community trusts them, like they trust them because they have done the work and they have been the ones; it wasn't your foundation money. It's been that nonprofit and community that's holding everybody up. And so they have this level of kind of trust.
What happens when you work for the grant side is like we often have great relationships with program staff. We often have great relationship grantees. So we have like this level of like support and like really ability to contribute. But when we get to the thing of strategy and the vision of the org? It's like, oh no, we don't get always invited and it's weird. And so I think about equity as being also about inclusion story. All voices, different departments should be at tables where the organization is deciding where to go. I do think we can do much better to invite the operation side much earlier and upstream in conversations. I believe that my colleagues in ops have a heck of a lot to say about where we go and how we do it. And that's technology, that’s HR, that's grants, that's finance, it's all of the whole group.
And so I do feel like that's a bit of the beginning or like the early equity story. It's just like be okay with the fact that my experience has value and can possibly, if you let me share it with you, lead to some solutions for our organization. So I think that's a piece of it, right? And then when you get into like where PEAK is going. When we start talking about funding, there are all kinds of dynamics around nonprofits not always having a strategic voice and even the process by which they seek or can secure funding from your organization. And that's really about the program or whomever at the organization deciding, this is what we're going to do and you're going to be happy you get money. Well, that's a power dynamic; that's an issue.
And also, you need to understand that the nonprofit is its own entity. What do you know about the nonprofit in the sense of, do you even know what they're after in grant sizes? Do you know who else funds them? Have you done the research to even know who your potential grantee is? So that you can right-size your process with them against their experience and not yours. Because if you think, we have like a $10,000 grant, that's a big grant for us. And so we're gonna take you through a 25-page grant application. For that nonprofit that could be like the smallest grant they're getting this year. And so your process feels not right-sized. And so when we approach equity from the principals’ landscape, it is really about thinking about the power dynamics that show up on decision making at the board level, at the programmatic level, so on and so forth.
What—do you have people—you want to fund homeless women. Do you have a formerly homeless woman or someone who's representing an advisory group to your board or something? Are you hearing directly from people who’ve had this experience to help you kind of understand it? So it's really about voice. It is about inclusion. It is about thinking about moving money out to community in ways, to quote the justice funders and many other people in trust-based philanthropy, in ways that are generative, that include feedback loops where your grantee can be honest with you about how they're experiencing you and what they really need from you. If we are not there, then we've got work to do. And PEAK is actually the unique organization that can help you move from being an efficient to an effective to an equitable grantmaker. That's the triangle that we see that we're moving organizations to choose to be members with us or work with us through. Which is to get to being equitable, one must think about power and privilege and decision-making and monitoring. Are the black-led organizations being monitored more? Are the new organizations being asked to do things because you don't know them although you have all the resources in the world to get to know them before you show up. And like how long does it take to move the grant? Why are you making folks wait when you know you're going to give money to them and they’re mission-aligned? Why is it restricted funding? All those things are part of the equity story, Sam.
Yeah. And this is exactly where grants administrators can play a new and extremely important role in breaking down these power dynamics, right? And really bringing to fruition the promise of trust-based philanthropy because it's the grants administrators who understand all of the administrative work that foundations and grantmakers typically ask of nonprofits, right? And so, you know, that can be the first line of defense in terms of saying, like, look, you're giving this organization a relatively small grant. You're asking them to do as much administrative work as if they were receiving a huge grant, right? You know, or we're being overly prescriptive in how we're telling them that they can spend the grant dollars. Like the grant administrator is the one who sees all of this first-hand because they are so effective at ushering that grant through the process. And you know, it feels like a new role and a new opportunity for grants administrators.
But you have to value that voice. Again, it goes back to your inside/outside, right? Inside, are you getting it right? Like, right? Are you listening? Are you seeking out the advice of your grants team about how you do things and, or not, right? Because I do think that a lot of folks in philanthropy talk a great game outside, but inside, there's all kinds of problems going on. So I say start practicing equity internally and sometimes you can do it externally a lot better. But if you're not doing it internally, you might have some authenticity issues.
Yeah, it makes perfect sense. All of this has just been the perfect segue for the question I've been dying to ask you about, which is PEAK was the recipient of a grant recently, from none other than MacKenzie Scott, who wrote this absolutely amazing piece titled Seeding by Ceding, right? And so, you know, her perspective is really exactly what we've been talking about—that, you know, funders should take a much greater role in terms of enabling nonprofits to do what they do best and by not being overly prescriptive about how money should be spent. And so, I think that PEAK was part of this latest round. I think it was $2.7 billion in total for all the great stuff.
$2.7 billion. Yeah, that's right. So tell us about this grant. And was this a surprise for you guys? Did you know it was coming? Did you have to apply or make a case for it? Tell us the story.
Thank you for asking about it. So, no, who MacKenzie Scott and her team are practicing what they then preach, right? Which is they knew what they were looking for and they assembled a team because they have the money, which is also like what we talked about in our principals like, hey, funders, you have all the resources in the world you need to be able to find out who's mission-aligned in sync with what you're trying to advanced in the world. And so that's exactly what happened is that her team did all the research to come up with a short list and then a final list in which we were not involved.
The team did the work which is exactly what we want more foundations and funders and individual wealthy people thinking about doing, which is like go find mission-aligned organizations or purpose-aligned based on what you want to give out. And then just write the check. So there was absolutely zero process application, anything. We had a team, and I presume that maybe we had, this is a lot of money. And so, I'm not gonna say that the team of 86 of us have the same people or experience, but her team, I believe, divides and conquers.
We had a point of contact who reached out and said we're interested in making an investment to you. And pretty quickly, I had more information than most. I had to keep that information to myself until a public announcement was made and that is what we did. We could share very discreetly internally but really it was not our announcement to make, it was hers. And so we were only asked to provide EIN and confirmed banking information. And you know what? That’s what everybody can do if you decide that. Again, like if you and I have a foundation that we're running, and we want to do again like reading in Baltimore and we find all these organizations that advance reading in Baltimore, we could just write checks of them. All we have to do is make sure that they're green on Guidestar the day we cut the check. And that's it. And so that's the other thing about mission alignment. Once you find out who's like, right in the center point of where you want to give away money, you could just write a check. You could be more prescriptive.
We were given the opportunity to decide how we would receive the funds, like, right? If we want, you know, she, you know—no one wants your nonprofit to be overwhelmed, nor do we want it to be disadvantaged, right? We also talk about that. You should know the impact of your grants. Well, again, her team asked us some questions and we had time to consider a few parameters on how we wanted to receive the funds and things like that. But it was the most caring, gentle, warm, restorative, “we believe in you, you all are doing great work, you are a great leader, we're going to invest in you.” And then the check arrives.
Exactly how it should be.
What a beautiful process. And what, you know, I have been so disappointed by some of the, you know, water cooler, BS conversation I have heard even coming back. She is doing something her way, but it is a way that 100 percent should be replicated.
And I can't wait to see that happen. There's only been a few other people, you know, who have just kind of came out and said, hey, I'm giving you a whole bunch of money away—the Robert Smiths and a few other people. And done a little bit differently, but it's a small group and we know that not everyone wants to be public about the way they give and we get it. But we're in philanthropy, we know who's giving away money. It’s what we do. So, it would be nice if more folks found her model to sync with what they believe they could do because it was, as a recipient. We often at PEAK Grantmaking, we joke around. Or I’ll say I joke around, speaking in I. That a lot of people forget that we're a nonprofit. We're often trying to remind people like, hey, you know, we are nonprofit. You can just give us money whenever you want. But because we support funders and philanthropy, it's a weird story that we're in. And we're also trying to influence people give us money to do something different.
And so it's an interesting space to be in. It's a wonderful space, but to actually have received funds that you felt bigger and better not because of the money but because the process was just so supportive and so simple. It was really nice and it was in stark contrast to most of the money that I think many nonprofits receive. It is very starkly different than the process and the experience we usually have with fundres—not to be in any way negative, but it's just, it was a different thing. And I think that Delores and I, who are the inside story, like it was a beautiful process. I, you know, I'm going to bring her in on this. It was just, we've been in philanthropy between the two of us for more than 30 years if you add all know, sorry, more than 50 years if you add our kinds of collective experience and this was something we've never experienced before. It was nice.
Yeah. Well, I really appreciate you sharing the story, and it feels like it's a story that needs to be shared more broadly. So, I hope that you have the opportunity to continue talking about what an amazing experience it was to be a recipient, not just of the grant dollars but like, you know, of the grant process. And again, to your point, it just feels so different than the way that most organizations make grants. And I feel like there's some real lessons that the sector can learn from this type of giving and this type of seeding by ceding as McKenzie Scott says.
Yeah, I've loved that title because to me, that's exactly. I felt, I think that at PEAK we felt very, very like oh, she's speaking our language like this article was just—we were just grinning because it's like this is exactly, not in a MacKenzie Scott way, but in a PEAK way, this is exactly what we've been talking about for a while. We launched the principles, you know, a couple of years ago, from doing these deep dives. And there's another way of doing business, guys, there's other ways of doing business. And the way we've always done it is something that makes some of us like go until a little small like cringe fest, but there's other ways to do it. And she’s showing us yet another wonderful way of doing it. And I do hope more people are open to the more unrestricted grants.
The work that nonprofits go through to meet those reporting requirements to just get the money and things like that. Nobody ever thinks about the administrative side, right? Even for a nonprofit like ours of who’s doing those reports. And what are they not doing, when one of my team is doing the reports or doing these meetings with the one funder? And we have many. What does that take away from the work we're supposed to be doing for our members and for the field? And you could say we're short-sighted because we didn't staff a whole bunch of people to be doing that. But actually it's just, it's a lot of process stuff that can just go away guys. Note to self: it can all go away. Everything that the IRS requires is still going to be met. You're going to have a clean audit. It's all gonna be fine. I do not believe that MacKenzie Scott is giving money away in a way that she thinks is gonna screw all of us over. Like she's not, no is she going to be subject to problems on the back end. So these are very smart people who have figured this out and they figured out how to do it easily.
I hear you. Alright, my friend. I'm going to ask my last question because time has flown by here. So, you know, I'm putting my technology hat back on and I believe that you have this amazing perspective based on everything that you've done in your various roles in philanthropy and now in PEAK Grantmaking. So in terms of technology and software, I'm super curious to know, what do you feel like the nonprofit sector needs or is missing in terms of technology these days? So what can we technologists do differently or do better to help organizations like PEAK or other nonprofits better achieve their mission.
I just, thank you, and I'm interested to know what you think because I did say and prep for this. I was like I want to hear what Sam has to say because I like hearing both sides of it, but I want to pick up and go back to equity. There's a lot of technology. I remember starting back in 2002 on Blackbaud, like, you know, my microwave gifts like razor's edge. There weren't a lot of technologies that were there for us in the beginning. That's a very different story now, right? It's a very different technical story. Philanthropy tech has totally taken off.
When I think about all that we're still adding to our systems to get them where we need to be. I wonder about that because to me the demographic data and kind of being equity-focused and thinking about the whole cycle of how technology supports—from budget development all the way to impact capture or outcome capture or however you're doing, you know, you're trying to figure out how have things change as a result of this investment. From here to here, I do believe that there's some things that should just be baked in. And I think that right now we're still adding a lot of components that we believe kind of help hold and lift up and pull out equity. Or we're kind of using APIs over here and we're grabbing information from over here. I do think that the tech vendors who are really wanting to support philanthropy have a wonderful opportunity to bring the suite that is like fully baked to us. Make us opt out of rationality, right? Make me say, oh Sam, I don't want that equity stuff, you can take that out. Because honestly, you're going to stop yourself when you go to make that statement. Most people will. And so, I do think that there are some pieces and some best practices that we're seeing in philanthropy tech that come out of the TAG conversations, and many other folks.
I have sat with Chantal and heard all the things that are in her head. And I'm thinking, and she and I were like, why isn't that already in there, right? Why isn't that already baked in? Why is that an added component? And so, I do think there are some opportunities to just say we're scanning the field. Tech can be more equity-centered too. And here are some of the components that we believe are going to be like just part of everything we offer philanthropy. That's like my fantasy without getting overly specific about fields and stuff like that.
It is just like, make me opt out of rationality, simplicity, and equity. Make me opt out of that because I'm going to stop the moment that that's what I'm doing. Right now I'm opting in to simplicity, opting in to equity, opting in to transparency, opting in. And I do think philanthropy tech has an opportunity to shift that so that we don't even realize how great we could be once we buy this platform to do our grantmaking. So that's a little bit of my big picture fantasy around what philanthropy tech could be doing and should be doing? What about you? I want to hear your thoughts.
Man, you know, like I lay awake at night thinking about that very question. And so I'm going to continue with your theme of equity. And so what I would love to see philanthropy tech provide in terms of better equity is I want our platforms to generate more of a sense of community between grantmakers and nonprofits and members of the community and helper organizations. Like, to me grantmaking has, with our technology, has felt very transactional for a very long time. And I feel like, you know, the next big evolution is going to be when our technology enables greater collaboration among large groups of constituents across the whole philanthropic landscape. And so, you know, those are the kinds of things that I'm thinking about. And now I have this amazing role at Submittable, where that company is actually interested in doing these same things. So stay tuned and we'll see where it leads to. But that would be, that would be my dream envision for philanthropy tech.
And I’m right with you because when we talk about collaboration, right? There's a lot that's needed. If you put a price on the problem that we're trying to solve, right? It's going to take a lot of us to come together to fund it and solve it. I think also the connectivity, right? The way that we can bring multiple funders together through technology and make it really simple and easy for them to extract back out what they need for their data and analytics for their boards and staff. But it'd be part of a universal because these funders have agreed to come together to fund a bigger problem over many years. So, I also think about how do we really go collective, collaborative, and big? To let multiple funders, not like you have to all be in the system, but to really let the system begin to communicate with each other to get to that communal approach that you're talking about. I think that will be absolutely amazing. And we're not there yet. We have a lot of opportunity for innovation in the space.
Yeah, that is no doubt. Satonya Fair, president and CEO, PEAK Grantmaking. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you being my first guest on the podcast.
So, thank you. This has been the highlight of my week and I can't wait to hear all of our communal friends tell me how much they loved hearing from you on this. So thank you again. This has been fantastic.
Thank you, Sam for the invitation, I just appreciate you and I'm so excited to see you at Submittable and to be working with your team. It's just an exciting time. Thank you.
Thank you for joining us. You can learn more about PEAK Grantmaking through the suggested reading list in our episode notes at submittable.com—PEAK is doing incredible work we hope you’ll support. You’ll also find other great resources related to this conversation in the notes, as well as a full episode transcript. Be sure to subscribe for updates so you can be part of Impact Audio as we grow the program.
Impact Audio is edited and produced by Jordan Marvin and our crew at Submittable. Submittable is a cloud-based social impact platform designed to help your team make better decisions and have a bigger impact. We’d love to partner with you to maximize social good and create lasting change through smarter technology—find out more at Submittable.com. And until next time, take good care.