Earlier this year the John Rex Endowment received the results of a grantee perception survey we commissioned by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). When we decided to do the survey we felt it was important to get a picture of grantee opinions about working with us, to see how we compared with other funders, and to share lessons from the results with people who might be interested.
CEP’s report gathers opinions about overall impact, the grantmaking process, and communications. Our results were compared with a database of more than 250 funders as well as a cohort of funders similar to us.
In March, all participating grantees received a summary of the ratings. The Endowment board heard a presentation by CEP staff in June. Our staff has spent considerable time slicing and dicing responses to get a clear picture of how we rate, how we compare, and what we might do differently to contribute to the change we wish to see.
What we learned from our grantee survey
Now it’s time to more broadly share what we are learning and doing with the results of this examination. What follows are some insights from the time spent studying these responses and the connections between our survey results and our quest to make an impact on behalf of vulnerable children.
How we measure change from our grantmaking and other activities is a challenge we share with every other funder I speak with. Now that we are deep into our Plan for Impact, and thanks to the careful attention paid to expected outcomes in grant development, we have more evidence of the changes taking place as a result of grant related work.
This survey provided a different perspective on impact. Grantee ratings of our impact on the local community were higher than 70% of other funders in the data set. Nearly 9 of 10 respondents rated us 5 or higher on a 7-point scale when asked about our impact on vulnerable Wake County children. Similarly, our understanding of the local community was rated in the top 15% – indicating credibility as an organization working to improve the community from the people working with us.
Our Transparency: The most powerful predictor of grantee-funder relationships
The survey also presents many signs of positive relationships with grantees. Our awareness of the challenges faced by grantees rated in the 75% and the extent to which we take advantage of resources to help grantees address challenges ranked even higher.
Our processes received higher than typical ratings - a reassuring score for two reasons. We have always made efforts to be respectful of the time grantees spend applying and managing grants with us. When the survey was taken, we had recently installed a new on-line system. Even so, we continue to look for ways to improve our processes.
While staff responsiveness was praised, people admitted to the typical discomfort approaching problems with grants. We see this discomfort, accept that issues will arise, and encourage openness about dealing with problems head on. Positive, productive relationships are built over time through consistent and respectful exchanges. We will continue to openly communicate about priorities and new directions in our funding.
What's on the horizon for us
Two issues surfaced that we are exploring:
Our impact on public policy is rated mid-range. This year we have been actively considering what role we have in the policy arena that influences our goals and whether we might be able to do more;
Similarly, the opinion of funded organizations on how much we improve their ability to sustain the work funded by grants was mid-range. Sustainability is one of those thorny issues with no simple solutions, but with so much promise that it demands attention.
Broadly speaking, the survey reassured me that our culture at the Endowment is in sync with our strategies and procedures:
That our determination to be a learning organization is evidenced by the effort to do the survey, to discuss its results with staff, board and community and, importantly, to act on insights gained in the process;
and that our openness and approachability is recognized by our grantees in their ratings, even as we all recognized that it can be challenging when there are struggles with grants. Acting with fairness and consistency is a step we take to remove barriers.
As we support organizations to work together and learn with us I've been reminded to pay close attention to how our community is changing, the resources that are available, and the emerging issues that are ripe for action. Awareness of the climate in the county can lead us to better understanding of you, your beneficiaries, and the relevance of our strategies.
Finally, what I hear in these responses is the value we all place on understanding each other and supporting each other in an environment of trust and openness. We desire to be heard, acknowledged, and understood. And when an allied community acts that way we feel optimism about the possibilities of creating change together.
In that spirit, I welcome feedback from you in the form of observations, opinions, and questions. Whether you were part of this survey or not, whether you have been involved with a grant funded by us, or a proposal not funded by us, if you have something to share that might make us better at building a Wake County where children and families live healthy lives, then by all means, let me know. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Cain, President and CEO