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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ACTIVE LISTENING
ON THE HEELS OF THE SECOND ONTARIO TRILLIUM FOUNDATION (OTF) PERCEPTION SURVEY, CEP’S MARK MCLEAN, SHARES THE VALUE OF AND CHALLENGES IN COLLECTING CANDID FEEDBACK FROM GRANTEES AND APPLICANTS

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MARK MCLEAN Senior Research Analyst The Center for Effective Philanthropy

oliciting and collecting feedback is an integral part of our daily life as we seek to understand and improve on what’s working and what isn’t. Whether you fill out a customer service form at the new restaurant down the street, send a letter to your MPP, or even load this webpage, there are systems in place for collecting feedback and data that can help improve your next gastronomic experience, ensure your perspective is voiced and heard, or identify any issues with the loading time for these blog posts. So what value is there for feedback in funder-grantee relationships? What challenges are there in soliciting it? And does grantee feedback lead to change that benefits funders and grantees? Most of the funders the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) works with grant millions of dollars to dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of not-for-profit organizations in any given year. These grantees represent a funder’s chosen agents of change—the organizations selected for their ability to deliver outcomes in alignment with their funder’s goals and strategy—and they have meaningful insights for how a funder can better work with grantees to achieve their shared goals.

“FUNDERS AND GRANTEES HAVE A MUTUAL DEPENDENCE IN ACHIEVING THEIR SHARED GOALS... “

There is, however, a challenge in collecting candid feedback from grantees: funders hold almost all the power in funder-grantee relationships. Grantees depend on their funders to provide vital services in their fields or local communities, and although funders might ask for feedback from grantees, the thought of providing critical feedback is rarely a risk worth taking for your community’s food bank, senior centre, arena, or heritage site when their funding is on the line. As a result, it’s common for funders to (1) assume that their work with grantees is more effective than it truly is and (2) neglect collecting candid feedback from grantees. I was recently reminded of this power dynamic while working on OTF’s latest Grantee and Applicant Perception Reports (GPR and APR). OTF is one of the largest grantmaking foundations in all of Canada, providing more than $110MM in grants annually. However, most of its grantees receive less than one thousandth of the Foundation’s annual grantmaking budget—what some funders OTF’s size might consider an insignificant amount. This might not be a concern from a grantee’s perspective if they receive a relatively insignificant amount of money from the Foundation, but OTF’s contribution to grantees across Ontario is quite significant. The typical OTF grantee receives nearly 20 percent of its annual budget from OTF alone! OTF recognizes this challenging dynamic as well as the importance of grantee feedback in its efforts to strengthen the capacity of the volunteer sector in Ontario. In 2009 and 2012, OTF commissioned CEP to collect confidential feedback from its grantees and declined applicants, and share this feedback with the Foundation in our comparative reports. OTF made several positive changes in response to the 2009 reports and in 2012, grantees and declined applicants indicated the Foundation improved on its 2009 ratings in almost every area of the GPR and APR, including OTF’s impact on and understanding of grantee organizations and the quality of its interactions and communications with grantees and applicants. OTF’s story is not the only positive one. Among other funders CEP has worked with, nearly all report making “some” or “significant” changes to their work in response to grantee feedback—most frequently to their communications with grantees, attitudes toward working with grantees, grantmaking processes, and provision of nonmonetary assistance. And in CEP’s research on funders that have used the GPR multiple times, we found that when funders commit to getting consistent, candid, and comparative feedback from grantees, they can make substantive changes that result in different and better experiences for grantees. Funders and grantees have a mutual dependence in achieving their shared goals and addressing the problems facing society today. By acknowledging the power dynamics inherent in funder-grantee relationships and listening to grantees’ candid feedback in a comparative context, funders are better equipped to make changes that improve grantees’ experiences and achieve the outcomes both organizations are working toward.

Read more about the findings of and response to the most recent Ontario Trillium Foundation Perception Survey.

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