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In the Know: Building and Sharing Effective Field Scans

Publication date: 
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Christine SherryFounder, Sherry Consulting

What did we do before Wikipedia? How did we ever settle debates about which film won the Oscar for “Best Picture” in 1997 (it was “The English Patient,” for all of you that are dying to know), or whether a camel or a giraffe actually drinks less water (answer: giraffe, surprise!)?

But Wikipedia is not just for trivia questions that threaten to catapult mild disagreements into screaming matches. Its transformative power is in providing valued information on a broad range of subjects, facilitating the collaboration of millions of authors, and making knowledge free and transparent to everyone.

We have a tool like Wikipedia in the world of philanthropy too; it’s called a field scan. Building on the collective knowledge, experience and efforts of a range of individuals connected to an issue, field scans equip effective grantmakers with the big-picture insight they need to make an impact in their domain.

It may seem tempting to take a DIY approach to field scans. You’ve been writing the checks, so you can read the landscape like it’s the palm of your hand, right? But even though you know your house better than anyone on the block, there’s a reason why you still enlist a contractor when undergoing an important renovation. Otherwise, you may find yourself four months into a “simple” bathroom facelift, $40,000 over budget, and with leaking pipes, broken tiles, and drywall all over the floor. Do-it-yourself doesn’t necessarily mean better, and it doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper, either. The same goes for field scans. A well-conducted scan will pay off in greater understanding and impact.

Taking the time to challenge your assumptions and to do your homework—whether it’s about a new issue you’re hoping to tackle, or an area that you’ve been funding for years—pays off in the long run. And, as more organizations begin commissioning field scans and sharing information, grantmakers can begin to amass an encyclopedic knowledge about different causes. As a result, complex problems become more transparent and collaborative, impact increases, and philanthropy evolves.

Observe. Analyze. Share. Repeat. You can give smarter. Come join the conversation about effectively using field scans at the 2014 GEO National Conference.

Bio: Christine Sherry founded and leads Sherry Consulting, a philanthropy advising practice based in Silicon Valley. The firm provides strategic, due diligence, market analysis and organizational development services for foundations, private donors and nonprofit organizations. Christine is a Visiting Practitioner at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. She teaches a course, Giving Wisely, in Stanford’s Continuing Studies program.

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