SmartyGrants founder spells out agenda for a mature grantmaking sector

Posted on 31 Mar 2021

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

SmartyGrants and Our Community founder Denis Moriarty says the grantmaking sector has failed to live up to its full potential in a sometimes-harsh assessment of how the field has developed, while holding out hope that things can and will change.

In the opening keynote of the Grantmaking Intelligence Conference in Melbourne, March 18-19, Mr Moriarty cast his eye back over the many decades he’s been watching grantmaking, first as a senior public servant, then the originator of the country’s first grants database (EasyGrants), and a decade ago as the instigator of the cloud-based grants management system, SmartyGrants.

“Looking at the grantmaking industry over that time, it’s been a matter of two steps forward, one step back, one step sideways, stumble, drop an armful of papers into a puddle, try to pick them up, but have your glasses fall off and break, and then have a long pause while you try to remember where you were going in the first place,” he said.

“Not so much 21 years of grantmaking as one year of grantmaking 21 times.”

Mr Moriarty laid out six areas of neglect in his address:

  • “One, we haven’t built a profession.
  • “Two, we haven’t enforced a code of ethics.
  • “Three, we haven’t found a way to use our data.
  • “Four, we haven’t found a way to measure our outcomes.
  • “Five, we haven’t come to terms with diversity.
  • “Six, we’re not ready for the emerging technological changes.”
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Denis Moriarty at Grantmaking Intelligence

Despite the difficulties he has seen as a veteran of the industry, Mr Moriarty said there was light on the horizon: “I feel as if we have only started.”

Mr Moriarty, who admits to preferring to work away from the limelight, said SmartyGrants would help solve some of those areas of neglect and laid out a new agenda to help the sector reach “maturity” by addressing:

  • Training and professional development
  • Dissemination of a code of ethics and a possible professional association
  • Making the best use of new SmartyGrants tools such as CLASSIE and the Outcomes Engine
  • Challenging the “arrogance” and “elitism” in some funding programs to improve inclusion to ensure grantmakers don’t act as they have all the answers, when in fact community groups do
  • The introduction of artificial intelligence (e.g. “robot assessors”), while keeping a very close eye on potential bias.

He said the grantmaking sector had witnessed “explosive growth” in recent years and there was a need to match size with “maturity”.

“I honestly believe SmartyGrants is central to the future of a new bigger, bolder disruption agenda for the grantmaking industry,” he said.

In 11 years, the company had become “pervasive” in Australia and New Zealand, and had just launched in the United Kingdom.

Our Community had “reinvested every dollar made through sales back into building a better product and service”, without raising costs, Mr Moriarty said.

“The next year will see the roll-out of some of the biggest reforms in the SmartyGrants platform – both for grantmakers and grantseekers. We intend to keep on getting better. We have a long way to go but the issues I have raised today about coming of age will remain a core focus for Our Community and SmartyGrants.”

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