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10 (Additional) Lessons Learned for Funders Considering the Grantee Perception Report

Date: January 3, 2024

Laura Bacon

Former Director, Partner Support, Luminate

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In 2020, Luminate, a global philanthropic organization, commissioned CEP to survey its grantee partners through the Grantee Perception Report (GPR). In 2023, Luminate commissioned a second Grantee Perception Report. This blog is a follow-up to the “10 Lessons Learned” published in 2020.

Luminate recently received our second Grantee Perception Report (GPR). We anticipated the results with eagerness and some anticipation. As one funder said during the recent Center for Effective Philanthropy conference in Boston: “Receiving the GPR as a funder is accompanied by the same anxiety as getting your report card as a child!”

We dug deep into our findings and published them publicly in 2020 and in 2023, alongside our commitments for improvement.

This blog seeks not to further delve into the substance of our results, but instead to offer reflections and behind-the-scenes guidance on the process. We hope it is useful for any funder thinking about administering a GPR.

Back in 2020, I had shared 10 lessons learned, and am excited to offer new-and-improved lessons from having gone through the GPR process again.

1. Data for Discussion and Evidence-Based Decision Making

The GPR is the gift that keeps on giving to the whole organization. In contrast to research that is relevant to only one team or skimmed by a few staff, GPR stats and comments have fueled Luminate team discussions and decisions for the past three years. Our staff have referred to GPR findings when streamlining our funding process, understanding the value of unrestricted funding, examining how much pressure we put on grantees, and assessing how much impact we have on organizations. Furthermore, basic stats in the GPR are ones that would have been difficult or impossible for us to glean easily from our existing database, such as partner demographics, organization budget, and hours spent on our application and reporting processes.

2. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

The foundation lead responsible for managing the internal GPR process will be well-served if they bring several colleagues into the process. In Luminate’s case, this time the GPR project team comprised our director of partner support, our director of learning and impact, as well as leads from funding operations and communications. This configuration ensured that our survey questions were comprehensive and thoughtful, we could accurately segment our respondent pool, we could explore our data with rigor, and we could publicly share our results and reflections.

3. Encourage Language Justice (Take 2!)

This learning from 2020 is so important that we want to reiterate it in 2023. We invested in translation of the report and comments into Bahasa Indonesia, Portuguese, and Spanish. Of the partners offered the opportunity to respond in their native language, 98 percent did so, up from 95 percent in our 2020 survey.

4. Make Good Use of CEP Staff

Our CEP contacts are very knowledgeable, and we leaned on them heavily throughout the process (shout-out to Liz, Max, and Kevin!). For instance, in addition to presenting findings to our leadership team and staff, they helped us parse complex findings, offered guidance on customized questions, and helped us consider how to respond to our areas of improvement based on their extensive experience with other funders.

5. Leaders Must be Bought-In

Our CEO was our leadership team sponsor for the GPR, and our entire leadership team was heavily engaged in absorbing and acting on the findings. This makes all the difference. Frankly, running a GPR is useless if those with institutional power and the ability to make changes are not on board, or not paying attention.

6. Don’t Just Focus on the “Negative” Results

Negativity bias means it is human to look at your foundation’s lowest or declining scores and focus on those. However, an overemphasis on these scores can lead foundations into making a critical error: Overlooking positive and/or increasing scores can result in less attention paid to sustaining this valuable work. Funders can’t rest on their laurels and must continue to invest in areas that their partners value most.

7. Focus, Focus, Focus

Rather than trying to work on several issues at once from your GPR, keep them in mind but really concentrate on two to three recommendations. In our case, we are going to work to sustain and continue one very positive result (our investment in organizations through unrestricted funding and beyond-the-grant support) and we are going to work to improve two areas where we need work (streamlining our reporting and application process and communicating more consistently).

8. Timing

In addition to setting aside time to process and discuss the results in internally — one of our lessons learned from 2020 — the foundation should consider the rhythms of its calendar year. This is especially important when determining which GPR cycle to join and how to roll things out internally. Do most of your staff and partners take holidays in August and late December? Do you have strategy and budgeting cycles which GPR data could inform? If so, schedule your GPR around those rather than squeezing it in.

9. Share Your Reports and Extend Gratitude

Our partners invested valuable time and energy in giving us this feedback. They are owed a huge thank you, ideally from the CEO as well as from their main points of contact in the organization. Furthermore, the philanthropic sector must be as transparent and accountable as possible, especially given the power imbalances we all recognize exist between grantor and grantee.

10. Your Report is the Beginning, Not the End

After identifying key areas for improvement or to sustain internally, foundations must develop a related action plan. They should budget for and incentivize the necessary work, and should designate staff members (ideally leadership team members) who will be responsible and accountable for following up on your GPR-related plans.

As we said in 2020: We believe feedback is a gift, and we value the insights and rankings our partners provided. Luminate will commission this kind of research again in three years, and we hope in the meantime that all of our partners continue to share their thoughts with us.

Laura Bacon was director of partner support at Luminate from 2020 to 2023. Find her on LinkedIn.

Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.

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