What We Learned by Asking our Grantee Partners, “How Are We Doing?”

by Janice Elliott November 15, 2016

Self-reflection is never easy. But we believe it’s essential work and key to learning and growing. That’s why we ask our grantee partners to reflect on their own work in their grant reports. This year, we turned the tables on ourselves, and asked our grantees to share their perceptions of the Trust’s work. This has been a wonderful opportunity for our own self-reflection, and I’m excited to share the results with you.

In February, the Trust enlisted the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to conduct a confidential survey of our grantees to hear their perceptions of our overall performance as a funder. The survey process was completed in June with 53 grantees responding (a great 75% response rate). Their feedback was enlightening, affirming and humbling, highlighting both areas of strength and areas where we can do better.

LearningThe great thing about CEP is they’ve been doing their Grantee Perception Reports for a long time. Over the past ten years, they’ve surveyed more than 50,000 grantees of more than 300 funders to build a dataset that allows foundations to assess their performance, as viewed by grantees, on a comparative basis. They also compared our results to those of a smaller cohort of 15 foundations that share similar characteristics to our own. We also benefitted from the excellent write-in comments provided our survey respondents.

Here is some of what we learned:

Our impact on the field

We are seen by our grantees as having a very strong understanding of the field in which we work, which centers on ending homelessness. And we scored extremely high on the extent to which we are seen as having affected public policy in our field. We want to keep up this great work.

Our impact on our grantee organizations

Our longer time grantees rate us well on the impact we’re having on their organizations, but those we have funded for less than six years (about half of the total) report significantly less impact. Based on this feedback, we will be looking harder at how to take better advantage of our full range of resources to support our grantees, including non-monetary assistance (things like strategic planning advice, convenings, connections to other funders, and sharing what works) and our capacity to make more flexible or multi-year grants.

Our relationships with our grantees

Among our longest-term grantees we scored very highly on the quality of our relationships with them. We are seen by them as fair, responsive, and supportive. The feedback from our shorter-term grantees was more mixed, though, and is an area where we think we can do better. Our goal is to ensure that all grantees and applicants feel like they are being treated fairly, that we understand their goals and strategies, and they don’t feel pressured to change their organizational priorities to meet ours. We also want to devise better ways of getting input from grantees, providers, and people with lived experience about what’s working, what’s not, and what could be changed.

Communications

The survey identified what we had known internally – that in order to be more effective, we need to dedicate time and resources to building our communications capacity. We recently hired our first communications manager and we are undertaking a restructuring of our communications strategy, starting with a revamp of our website. We hope to provide a more user-friendly experience for grantees and grant seekers looking for clear and consistent information on our goals, funding guidelines, and selection process. We’re also are eager to create more engaging ways to share what we’re learning and lift up to public view the incredible work of our grantees.
We feel tremendously grateful to our survey respondents for the time, honesty and care they took in providing this valuable feedback. We commit ourselves to taking your feedback to heart and working toward excellence in our support of your work and on behalf of people facing homelessness.

We are all in this work together, and together I believe we can end homelessness in our country for good.

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