4 Ways to Help Your Grantmaking Organization Adopt an Emergent Learning Mindset

Curiosity, transparency, diversity, vulnerability, and collaboration. At PEAK Grantmaking, these qualities and practices of emergent learning are an everyday endeavor that the team embraces in their work and advocates to members. Unlike traditional, linear modes of learning, emergent learning organizations like PEAK are dedicated to continually learning, sharing, and evolving, which is one of their guiding Principles.

In our webinar with Satonya Fair, CEO and President of PEAK Grantmaking, she shared these tips for shedding the idea of “best practices” and how grantmaking organizations can cultivate a culture of learning and unlearning.

1. Recognize What’s Not Serving You 

When you are busy, it’s easy to follow inertia down the path of the-way-it’s-always-done. It takes intentional effort to recognize when that way no longer serves you, your organization, or your constituents.

A growth and learning mindset is not about skills and competencies. It’s not about what you do. It’s recognizing the ways you typically take information and apply it may not be the process your organization needs to move forward.

Satonya asks her team, “Where is our head?” What are they focused on? Are they heads-down, deep in role-specific work when that siloed approach won’t get the organization to their future goals? Are they clearing space for innovative, blue-sky thinking?

Some of the tools you and your team have might be a little dull, some might be rusty, and some may not apply to this work at all, Satonya said on the webinar. Recognize what’s not serving you so you can make time for new approaches.

2. Make Room for New Ways of Learning

Learning is a journey. Sometimes to pick up new tools, you have to put some down. For grantmakers, it’s important to stay on top of technology and industry trends so you can understand—and possibly guide—your grantees. If your grantee is focused on incorporating community voice, for example, it’s important for you to know basic best practices so you can support that organization in their goal.

Similarly, as grantmakers, you need to help your grantees find new ways as well. Instead of providing direct answers to their problems, how are you helping them solve their own conundrums? How can you guide them on their path instead of simply providing the solution?

At PEAK Grantmaking, so many people want us to tell them what to do, Satonya said. But that is a surface-level change. You need to dig into your processes and how your organization works. What workflows stay, does this process serve us, is the data we’re about to input the data we want in the new system?

3. Layer Learning into Your Work

Looking for, understanding, and applying new ideas takes time—something many in philanthropy don’t have enough of. Stop putting learning and innovation in a separate bucket. Layer it into your work, and you will find you have more time for it.

Another way to bend the laws of time around learning is to create space for collective learning. Send everyone off on their individual emergent learning journey, and then bring that all back together. That’s when you see where the synergies are and alignment on the path forward. Your organization will have more impact if everyone is pulling in the same direction and sharing what they learned.

At PEAK, they partnered with CommunityBuild Ventures on a program called Brave Space Building™ to make sure everyone on their team felt comfortable sharing. “Safety must be cultivated,” Satonya said. “It must be something people care about and something that people elevate.”

4. Always Invite Curiosity

Your learning journey should never stop. Avoid complacency by focusing on being “next level” instead of following a “best practice.”

You define what “best” is for you and your organization. Understand why something is a best practice and then decide if it serves you and your organization. And then add to it.

Constant curiosity also helps you think through what comes after “best.” Moving to the next level should keep you in the emergent learning mode. Continuously add to your “best practice” to get to your next level. Not get stuck.

Don’t Live in Scarcity

You don’t have to be your own expert. Bring in recommended and vetted help. Be committed to the time and the journey. Be committed to your own internal change as an individual. Go get your own knowledge if your organization is not ready.

Hear more from Satonya about encouraging a learning mindset at your organization by watching her webinar, Learning and Unlearning to Be Next Level.