2014 Assets: $42.9MM*
2014 Giving: $11.1MM*
Location: Seattle, Washington
Background: Wilburforce helps conserve important lands, waters and wildlife in Western North America by supporting organizations and leaders advancing strategic solutions using conservation science.
Number of Grantee Perception Reports: 5.
Wilburforce has made results from their 2015, 2012, 2009 and 2007 grantee surveys available publicly here.
Wilburforce grantee ratings have consistently placed it in the top quartile – and on many measures the top 10 percent – of funders whose grantees CEP has surveyed, including for its impact on grantees’ fields and organizations as well as the strength of its relationships with grantees.
When Wilburforce sought to rethink how it provides assistance beyond the check to grantees, it commissioned CEP to create profiles of exemplars in the field. The Foundation made the profiles public for all funders to use as they think about new ways to provide non-monetary assistance to grantees.
Paul Beaudet has served as associate director since 1999, working to integrate evaluation practices into the foundation’s operations and directing capacity building efforts to help grantees manage and sustain their organizations.
What were the biggest changes to the way Wilburforce works that resulted from the Grantee Perception Report (GPR)?
Beaudet: Our first Grantee Perception Report in 2004 arrived six years after we adopted a strategic framework that recognized the long-term commitments we were making to fund in regions we had prioritized for conservation. That in turn meant we were deepening our partnerships with the grantees with whom we worked in those places.
In response to our GPR findings, Wilburforce’s Board of Directors:
- Increased the staffing of our regional program teams to better manage relationships
- Encouraged more site visits and regional travel
- Simplified our grant application process
- Awarded more multiyear grants
- Created a fast-track process for grants of $25,000 or less (now $50,000 or less).
Our intent was to shift our grantmaking approach from one based on transactions to one based on interactions.
We saw marked improvement between our GPRs in 2004 and 2007 on measures related to quality of interactions, and a decline in the burden imposed by our granting and reporting processes.
Over the years, we’ve continued to use the GPR findings and the rich feedback we get from our grantees to make other changes to our processes:
- Scheduling one-hour long conversations with every grantee prior to an application or renewal. These check-ins help us identify progress on the work undertaken, changes in the organization or its programs, emerging opportunities and or threats, and capacity needs.
- Eliminating our one-size-fits-all grant application format, and instead developing an online portal that allows us to customize questions about the particular context of a grantee’s work. This lets us focus on new information that helps inform and strengthen our relationships with these grantees.
- Integrating our grant reporting process into our renewal process. We’ve consolidated these reports since the learning we get from the look-back informs our decisions as we move forward.
- Targeting comprehensive non-monetary assistance more narrowly to those groups that we have identified as being our highest priority for capacity-building services.
How has Wilburforce used its program team-level data from the GPR to act on its GPR results?
Beaudet: We’ve identified certain measures in the GPR that are especially useful in monitoring aspects of our performance, including those that are core to our strategic framework around relationships, capacity building, and impact on the field.
Each program officer gets data from the subset of grantees that identified them as their primary contact. In addition to numerical ratings data, teams also have access to all of the narrative comments provided by the grantees with whom they work most closely, and those comments are a rich source of information that can inform our staff about how to respond to particular findings.
All of the team-level data is made available to every staff person across the foundation. Since we use the GPR to promote learning and improve performance, we encourage each of our teams to experiment, and to the extent that new approaches result in more positive grantee experiences, staff can learn from each other in ways that improve the performance of the entire foundation.
Last But Not Least
Beaudet has also contributed to the CEP blog about how Wilburforce’s work with grantees has evolved as a response to learning and feedback. Topics include:
- The pitfalls of the nonprofit starvation cycle
- Devoting more time and attention to grantees for greater mission effectiveness
- How funders can challenge bad habits to maximize the potential of their partnerships with grantees
*The Wilburforce Foundation has a living donor who funds the Foundation’s work annually.