Asking the Right Questions to Meet the Moment

Mena Boyadzhiev and Sonia Montoya

Over the last several months, the world has been changing at a dizzying pace. In our conversations with funders and nonprofit leaders, we’ve heard about the devastating impact of the pandemic — and the existential shock it’s created for our sector and its ability to meet increasing community needs.

At the same time, we’ve been galvanized by the growing momentum around achieving greater racial justice and equity in the field, and by the urgency with which some foundation leaders have moved to support their nonprofit partners through this crisis.

In response to this whirlwind of forces, the philanthropic sector is changing — and so is our work at CEP. It’s vital that philanthropy listen well and listen differently during this time, as our colleague Kevin Bolduc recently discussed. With that in mind, CEP is taking steps to ensure we are helping funders gather the data they really need to turn listening into actions that most effectively support nonprofits, both in their COVID-19 response and in advancing the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work. After all, the two are inextricably linked.

To meet the needs of this moment, CEP is:

  • evolving our assessments to gather the actionable feedback funders need right now;
  • incorporating best practices in inclusive surveying without overburdening nonprofits; and
  • building field-wide knowledge of the demographic makeup of nonprofits, their leadership, and the ultimate beneficiaries of their work, so that funders have the information they need to support the success of nonprofit leaders of color and diversify nonprofit leadership.

Rapid Changes to Help Funders Respond to Grantees’ Needs

For our 2020 assessments, we created and added a concise group of COVID-specific questions to our surveys. These questions offer funders the necessary insights for understanding the challenges and needs of grantees, donors, and staff so that they can make informed decisions about how to deploy their resources. In light of the differential impact that the pandemic is having on communities of color, these grantee-focused questions also help funders understand what nonprofits need to be able to address the more negative impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities.

And because we don’t want foundations to wait any longer than is necessary to understand and act on this time-sensitive feedback, we’re sending the results of these COVID-specific questions to Grantee Perception Report (GPR) users soon after the survey closes, without the usual contextual analysis and qualitative coding that is part of CEP’s assessments.

Evolving Our Grantee Survey

In our standardized surveys, we have long asked questions about survey respondents’ demographic characteristics. We carefully analyze this data for every client so that they can understand and act on any meaningful differences in perceptions between groups of survey respondents. Over the years, we’ve dug into the data across the field, facilitated conversations, and conducted focus groups and interviews for individual funders to uncover the “why” behind differences in perceptions between different groups of grantees and staff — for example, differences in experience between grantees of color and white grantees.

As part of our continual efforts to regularly review and update our surveys, we recently examined them again through a racial equity lens. As we did this — and as we also analyzed feedback that GPR respondents shared with us about what they wished we had asked (i.e., what they wanted their funders to know) — we realized that we could do better.

So, we added several questions to our core surveys specifically focused on racial equity, and we adjusted several of the options on our existing demographic questions to be more inclusive.

  • We added questions to help funders understand how much of their grantmaking is ultimately intended to benefit historically disadvantaged groups, and particularly BIPOC communities and individuals.
  • We added a question asking grantees to assess aspects of their funder’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • We took a closer look at the questions we ask grantees about their identities, and those of the leaders of their organizations, and added new questions to help funders learn more about the diversity of their grantee partners and declined applicants.

We hope that the data collected by these new questions will help funders better advance their missions and create more opportunities to use their resources and influence to improve outcomes for the communities they serve.

Now is the time for funders to act in partnership with grantees. To do this, funders must listen comprehensively so they can understand grantees’ contexts, their needs, and how to best partner with them in addressing the differential impact of COVID-19 and advancing equity throughout the field.

At CEP, we’re evolving to help them do just that.

Mena Boyadzhiev is director, assessment and advisory services, at CEP.

Sonia Montoya is manager, assessment and advisory services, at CEP.

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