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Funders Not Only Ask Grantees, “How Are We Doing?” But Sharing What They Learn With the Public


When the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) began conducting surveys of grantees in 2003, foundations primarily used the findings to learn what their grant recipients liked about doing business with them and what needed improvement.

Now, as a nod to greater transparency, a growing number of foundations are sharing grantee feedback from these surveys on their Web sites for the public to see. Often times these postings include discussions about improvements foundations are making spurred by comments from their grantees.

“Any foundation might benefit by simply paying attention to and quietly acting on the CEP survey findings,” said McKnight Foundation President Kate Wolford. “But to truly leverage the information to strengthen valuable relationships, we also need to share the results and our commitment for change.”

CEP produces Grantee Perception Reports® (GPR) three times a year. Foundations choose which of these surveys to participate in and how often to take the pulse of their grantees. Some poll grantees annually, while others repeat the process every two to three years. Each GPR shows how a foundation stacks up against other funders whose grantees also were surveyed. It also asks their opinions about what kind of impact they think a foundation is having. In addition to providing survey data, the GPR summarizes anonymous comments from grantees about their dealings with a funder during their grant period.

In their Web postings about the GPR results, foundations typically preface the report with a summary statement about the findings, especially if the results show positive or negative changes since the last time its grantees were surveyed. Foundations also describe steps taken or underway to improve areas where grantees had critical things to say about a funder.

“This kind of transparency – sharing unvarnished feedback from grantees – sends a powerful signal that a foundation is willing to hold itself accountable for its performance,” says Phil Buchanan, president, Center for Effective Philanthropy. “Furthermore, such disclosure helps all foundations improve: When funders publicly share actions they take in response to their GPR results, they help illuminate best practices and highlight mistakes to avoid.”

For instance, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation writes on its Web site that between the 2003 and most recent survey “there were not many big changes.” It adds that the foundation “ranks better than the average large, private foundation (although still only average within the larger universe of all foundations)”

But it also notes that “grantees reported that Hewlett staff sometimes does not have enough time to communicate adequately with them.”

In response to those findings, the foundation reported it had undertaken a process to “streamline our grants process, including simplifying the grant application without sacrificing its strategic value. While we believe that a relatively small staff contributes to collegiality and reduces bureaucracy, we are reviewing needs to ensure that the size and allocation of our staff is appropriate for the number and complexity of our grants.”

On its Web site, the Kresge Foundation writes that it “ranks at or below the 25th percentile in five of 11 key indicators, including impact on the community and overall satisfaction with the foundation.” In response, Kresge said it was taking several steps to “jumpstart our grantee satisfaction efforts.” These include launching a new Web site that provides programmatic and application information in a simple, straightforward manner, as well as the phone number and an email link to the foundation’s grants inquiry coordinator “who works full-time to answer grant-seekers’ questions.”

Sometimes GPRs help to communicate that foundation have made successful changes or retained good grantee perceptions in the midst of grantmaking transitions.

In its report to the public, the George S. Gund Foundation says “We were pleased to receive generally positive ratings and, in particular, we were encouraged by significant improvements from the 2003 GPR on two key measures: impact on grantees’ fields and impact on grantee organizations. However, we realize that there is always room for improvement and one area in which the Foundation was rated below the median was the clarity with which we communicate our goals and strategy.”

For examples of funders who have made their GPR results public, click here.

–Bruce Trachtenberg/Emily Culbertson

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