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Inviting Grantees to the Table
April 1, 2014

(Austin Long is a manager at the Center for Effective Philanthropy and leads relationships with funders using CEP's assessment tools. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and to funder boards and staff on topics of grantee, donor, and foundation staff feedback. This post originally appeared on the CEP blog.)

Long CEP headshot 150x150In a recent blog post from my colleague at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Kevin Bolduc, he shared inspiring examples of two funders trying something a bit different: sharing the results of their Grantee Perception Reports (GPR) in-person with their grantees. While we often see foundations sharing their GPR results publicly, it is all too rare that grantees are invited to join the conversation when CEP engages in discussions about the results with staff and boards.

This past October, I had the opportunity to discuss the results of one foundation’s GPR with both its staff and grantees, and I wanted to share more about the experience. My hope is that it may encourage other funders to consider these unconventional but incredibly valuable opportunities to connect with grantees.

The Whitman Institute (TWI) cites its mission as investing in “the power of relationships, constructive dialogue and the connections they generate to trigger problem solving and creative approaches.” As a result, an important part of surveying their grantees was communicating back to them about what the Institute learned.

It was an ideal opportunity to hear insightful and specific suggestions from grantees—both anonymously from the Grantee Perception Report results but also delivered there.

After receiving its Grantee Perception Report in August of 2013 and participating in a conversation between CEP, the board and staff shortly thereafter, TWI decided that its annual grantee convening in October would be the ideal time to facilitate a further dialogue about the feedback.

On a sunny weekend in Santa Cruz, about 100 grantees, other funders, and stakeholders from all over the country came together for TWI’s annual convening and to discuss the GPR findings. In keeping with TWI’s values, the goal of the day was not only for me to report back to grantees about TWI’s exceptionally positive feedback and ratings compared to other funders, but also to facilitate a dialogue about what to do next.

It was an ideal opportunity to hear insightful and specific suggestions from grantees—both anonymously from the GPR results but also delivered there—about how the Institute could strengthen their work together. Standing in front of the room, it was amazing to see some grantees actually defending TWI in some areas where it was rated relatively less positively; grantees also reinforced what they felt to be TWI’s strengths, and shared personal perspectives on the key opportunities to improve.

For the second half of the meeting, TWI asked groups of grantees to formulate ideas and discuss next steps about acting on the GPR recommendations. Grantees had very insightful suggestions to share, illustrating what I consider to be one of the most valuable aspects of this type of meeting—the opportunity for a funder to hear specific suggestions and ideas from the individuals and organizations that it has chosen to help them create impact. These group conversations allowed TWI to accelerate its ability to act on the guidance from the report.

Of course, it’s not possible for every funder to convene all of its grantees and stakeholders in one place. But for TWI, it was about much more than simply having the right people together in the same location; it was about using open dialogue and grantee feedback to build stronger relationships and meaningfully improve the ability of the Institute to achieve its vision.

Now isn’t that a conversation worth having?

-- Austin Long

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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