At a past Exponent Philanthropy National Conference, we presented a session with GrantCraft’s Jen Bokoff about doing just this—identifying priority needs and leveraging points for change, whether in a specific geographic region or around a particular issue area.

Missed the session? Here are the top 10 ideas we presented to fit a variety of timeframes, budgets, and operating styles.

1. Get Your Boots Muddy

As grantmakers, our best insights often come when we get away from the comfort of our offices. We need to take time to really listen to and experience first-hand the work of those we fund. This is Jenna’s “muddy boots” theory.

2. Listen to the Experts, Including Your Grantees

No matter how many years of experience you have as a grantmaker, you are usually one step removed from the programs of the nonprofits you fund. It’s important to view philanthropy as a way to channel resources to the experts doing the work. It’s not a way for you to set the agenda because of your role as funder.

3. Read Up

Reading newspapers, blogs, and books is one of the best ways to keep up with trends that can inform your grantmaking. Even blocking out 15 minutes a day to read is a great time investment.

4. Get the Whole Picture, Not Just One Piece

When considering a new funding area (or re-evaluating an existing area), think outside the box. You’d be amazed what you can learn from bus drivers, emergency room doctors, baristas and bartenders who interact with dozens of community members. Ask for their insights.

5. Seek Out Things That Make You Uncomfortable

When Carol began her work at the Ho/Chiang Foundation, she was new to the world of funding for palliative care programs. No doubt, it’s an issue area that many find uncomfortable. Carol had her worries too. But she acknowledged these realities, adopted a learning mindset, and (employing the techniques we list here) worked hard to get up to speed in the field.

6. Visualize Funding and Gaps To Highlight Opportunity

By the end of Carol’s first year in her new position, she was able to identify the five highest priority needs in the field of palliative care, along with specific ways private funding might help address them. She then determined how the Ho/Chiang Foundation’s existing grants fit this framework.

7. Tap Into Tools

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Tap into existing resources that help funders identify gaps and funding opportunities.

8. Know What’s Needed, but Don’t Overdo It

When you are eager to share your knowledge and ideas, there’s a good chance you might overwhelm your board or staff with too much information.

9. Don’t Try To Learn on Your Own

Tap the knowledge and power of other funders! Affinity groups, regional grantmaking associations, and funder collaboratives (both formal and informal) are a great place to build your knowledge and network with other funders.

10. Remember: Scanning Is Ongoing

Build listening and scanning activities into your daily, monthly, and quarterly routines (or however you like to think about or track your time).

Read the full article about identifying gaps in grantmaking by Carol Gallo at Exponent Philanthropy.