Systems Change: Grants that keep on giving

Because grant awards are social investments aimed at enhancing the quality of life, funders have intense interest in how positive changes will be maintained beyond the period of grant funding.

“When it comes to sustaining impact, programs that produce systems change are superheroes,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “These types of programs can benefit large numbers of people and sustain and multiply benefits over time.”

Floersch defines “systems change” as modifications of policies, procedures, or practices within communities, organizations, or governments. When an educational system changes the way it measures student learning, or a state changes how it deals with young offenders, or a town implements tougher laws against littering—those changes in systems can have long-term impact.

To amplify the quality and reach of program results, Floersch suggests that organizations consistently bring a systems change perspective to the planning table — even when the effort is not specifically targeting what we think of as systems change. “No matter what type of problem you’re tackling, understanding the web of influences that perpetuate a problem can increase the impact of your approach,” said Floersch.

To integrate systems-change thinking into all programs, Floersch suggests the planning team address these questions.

* What formal or informal systems and practices contribute to the situation you’re concerned about?

* What program design elements could contribute toward ongoing and escalating change by addressing those systems and practices?

* Are there other organizations you can bring into the process to intensify your impact on the underlying causes of the situation?

When you keep systems change in mind, you’re more likely to design an effective program that addresses an immediate situation, while also laying the groundwork for ongoing impact. “Grant awards are a means to an end, and that end is change,” said Floersch. “Any extra muscle you can bring to the job is worth the effort.” © Copyright 2016 The Grantsmanship Center