Bringing the Beneficiary Voice into the Boardroom

Throughout the philanthropic sector, there’s recently been a lot of attention paid to ideas about how increased openness and feedback channels can help foundations improve their effectiveness. More and more people are starting to look at how foundations can best work together and communicate with one another, nonprofits, and their intended beneficiaries to help maximize the positive social change in the areas we care deeply about.

A July article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review shared new research from the Stanford Statistics for Good Group that found that beneficiary feedback is more reliable and unbiased than some might think. The Fund for Shared Insight, a new collaborative of seven foundations, has emerged as an exciting new venture striving to change foundation practice. The fund will be making grants to organizations seeking to improve philanthropy in several ways: by encouraging feedback loops with grantees and beneficiaries, helping connect feedback with results, and strengthening foundation’s proclivity to be sharing, honest, and open about what is working, and what is not.

Here at CEP, we’re excited to be a part of the conversation and share what we’ve been working on to help lead this charge. On October 20, we will be releasing a brand new research report, Hearing from Those We Seek to Help: Nonprofit Practices and Perspectives in Beneficiary Feedback. Our research team embarked on this project to learn more about how the perspectives of intended beneficiaries — those an organization seeks to serve through its programs and services — can influence the practices, relationships, and understanding of the foundations funding those initiatives. We wanted to better understand how nonprofits are gathering beneficiary feedback and using it to drive improvement, and how well nonprofit leaders believe their foundation funders are taking beneficiary perspectives into their strategy and decision-making. The quantitative and qualitative data we analyzed led us to some fascinating conclusions that we can’t wait to share.

CEP has long been interested in the value of beneficiary feedback and bringing these perspectives into the boardroom. It led us to start the YouthTruth initiative in 2008, which uses survey instruments to harness student feedback and help educators integrate these perspectives into their strategies to improve academic achievement in their schools and districts.

Last year, CEP President Phil Buchanan, Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (and CEP board member) Fay Twersky, and YouthTruth Founding Director Valerie Threlfall published an SSIR article arguing that beneficiary feedback is an underdeveloped and underutilized source of information for foundations. The article provided examples in education and healthcare when listening to the voices of students and patients, respectively, directly influenced how decision-makers designed and implemented policies that improved the outcomes for those same beneficiaries.

Hearing from Those We Seek to Help: Nonprofit Practices and Perspectives in Beneficiary Feedback will be another step forward in our work to better understand how fostering feedback loops and listening to the perspectives of beneficiaries can help foundations improve their effectiveness. After the report is released, we will be featuring responses and reactions from guests here on the CEP blog. We’re excited to share our findings with you, and we hope you’re just as excited to share your thoughts and reactions with us.

Ethan McCoy is the Development & Communications Writer at CEP.

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