Lessons from IGS16: The How-To’s for Applying the SDGs to Grantmaking | npENGAGE

Lessons from IGS16: The How-To’s for Applying the SDGs to Grantmaking

By on Jun 22, 2016



In case you missed it, last week was the second annual International Grantmaking Symposium (IGS), presented by CAF America in partnership with UNDP. CAF America launched the IGS last year around the shared belief that international philanthropy can, and should be, a powerful force in our effort to address the world’s most pressing issues. Beyond its scope for learning and knowledge sharing, this year was special in that it was set within the framework of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I had the opportunity to participate on the panel, “Monitoring & Impact Measurement. The SDG Indicators Applied,” along with Irene Pritzker, President of the IDP Foundation and Karolina Mzyk Callias, Policy Specialist & Team Leader, SDG Philanthropy Platform, UNDP.

This was a very timely panel as we have all felt the momentum build behind philanthropy for the SDGs. Yet at the same time, many of us have also felt the struggle behind implementation for grantmaking institutions. International grantmaking is a highly complex process as-is, and approaching the SDGs is uncharted territory for many grantmaking institutions.

Our panel discussion highlighted the importance of strong cross-sector partnerships, impact measurement and outcomes reporting in developing a robust grantmaking strategy for the SDGs.

The Key to Cross-Sector Partnerships

Karolina opened the session with an enlightening overview of the SDG Philanthropy Platform, delving into the dollars grantmakers fund towards the SDGs. The SDG Philanthropy Platform aims to advance the SDGs by encouraging philanthropy, the UN, governments, the private sector and NGOs to collaborate. Through in-depth case studies, reports and how-to guides, the platform lends insight into how to converge interests between these parties. In many cases, they find that long-term approaches must address the need to develop national capacities of philanthropic actors and their civil society partners and grantees.

Irene also shed light on this issue as she described how the IDP Foundation specifically contributes to targets within SDG #4 (Education). Through its Rising School Program, IDP is improving education infrastructures in existing low-fee private schools that serve the poor. IDP’s pilot program in Ghana started with initial enrollment of 27,000 children and now is expected to reach a total of 150,000 children by July 2017. The program’s successes can be attributed to IDP’s ability to work with local government education frameworks and build strong partnerships with local stakeholders.

Measuring and Reporting on Outcomes

Expanding on Irene and Karolina’s points, I was able to offer insight into the research we’ve done at MicroEdge + Blackbaud about measurement and impact. In Karolina’s work, she has seen how data gaps and little or no information about philanthropic activities reside as a source of ineffectiveness within the sector. Over the last five years, we have collected feedback from over 5,000 touchpoints within the philanthropic community to understand how organizations are measuring and reporting their outcomes. This helped us develop our Outcomes taxonomy, that will ultimately address the lack of data on philanthropic activities that Karolina noted.

As we talked with philanthropic organizations and thought leaders, we saw how foundations struggle with finding the right way to participate in the SDGs, how they can partner with other organizations, and what they should be measuring to see the results of their grants. These observations are helping us to expand the Outcomes taxonomy to equip grantmaking institutions with a new set of tools and terms to quantify and qualify their impact towards furthering the SDGs.

Key takeaways

Aligning grantmaking with the SDGs is a complex undertaking nonetheless, but IGS proved to me that there are great minds coming together and forming an unmatchable force. Here are some key takeaways and sound bites from our panel:

  • Don’t form your mission, goals and outcomes in a silo in your boardroom. Listen to all of your stakeholders, nonprofit partners and the community.
  • SDGs and the indicators associated with it offer an opportunity to collaborate, and this collaboration will happen when there is one unified language that connects the SDGs and indicators to the work that is being achieved.
  • Quantitative data is crucial for supporting qualitative data and telling the story of the impact you are having.
  • Accelerators such as innovation and investments are key to furthering the SDGs (like the Rising Schools Program).

It was so great to attend this two-day event with such an intimate group of thought leaders, practitioners, policy experts. Thanks to Karolina and Irene for such a great panel session!

I’d love to hear your reactions to these points, or about your own experiences with grantmaking and the SDGs!


Annie Rhodes was formerly the Director, Foundation Strategy at Blackbaud, the world’s leading cloud software company powering social good. In this role, Annie helped philanthropic organizations leverage technology to optimize how they manage their giving and improve collaboration with funding partners and grant recipients. Annie also aided customers evolve from simple grantmaking programs to results-focused giving programs that establish and measure outcomes and drive toward impact. As part of this, Annie spearheaded the development of Blackbaud Outcomes™, a technology solution that helps funders and nonprofits track and measure the results of their giving programs. Annie also led the efforts to map Blackbaud Outcomes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to provide funders with the opportunity to measure how their grants are contributing toward the broader efforts to achieve the SDGs.


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