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How to Apply KM in Philanthropy

Produced by Steve Nathans-Kelly

Foundations, especially large older ones, like Ford have been practicing elements of knowledge management for decades and naming these practices as KM is a relatively recent phenomenon, but it's becoming more common in the sector, said Nicolette Lodico, Ford Foundation director, global information and KM, who discussed how philanthropic organizations with deep resources like the Ford Foundation build a robust KM practice in her presentation at KMWorld Connect 2021.

The importance of KM has been amplified by pandemic-driven remote work, said Lodico, "so it's kind of a hot topic right now, and that's really exciting for us." While noting that her views are heavily influenced by her experience at the Ford Foundation, which is one of the oldest private U.S. foundations and been operating for more than 80 years, Lodico emphasized that she understands that for every foundation like Ford, there are hundreds, and maybe thousands, of smaller foundations that simply don't have the resources to support a robust KM practice.

"But as a foundation with deep resources, we at Ford have a deep commitment to sharing what we know and talking about how we do our work in the spirit of collaboration. There are practices, namely documenting our work and collaborating and sharing, that can be seen throughout the sector. These practices are fundamental to building a robust KM practice."

For instance, many foundations have strong practices for managing records, even if only to ensure compliance with relevant regular regulations and tax laws, said Lodico. Many foundations also archive records that they wish to maintain indefinitely because of their historic value. For example, grant records are often the clearest and most valuable demonstration of the work that foundations fund. The intended targets and outcomes of that work and, most compellingly, the actual impact of that work that—that work had over time and also important.

In addition, many foundations collect and catalog organizational papers—products created by grantees, special reports, and conference papers. Many of the materials found in these collections, particularly those that were not formally published, can't be found anywhere else "so you can only imagine how valuable they are to researchers, and to staff to learn how not to reinvent the wheel but also to evaluate the impact over time."

In addition, a core around responsibility for many foundations is to bring people together to address a shared interest or issue. And convenings are a very powerful means for engagement. This is something that many foundations like the Ford Foundation do as one of their primary functions. 

The sector is also supported by dozens of affinity groups, community groups, communities of practice, and philanthropy-serving organizations that bring funders together around a shared interest or issue for learning, for candid nuts-and-bolts-type conversations. and for sharing. I think the, they help to kind of raise the tide so that all ships will benefit from this."

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