Closing the Feedback Loop with Grantees: A Conversation with the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation

Kristy Luk and Cynthia Rowell

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from grantmakers after they complete a Grantee Perception Report (GPR) with CEP is, “How would you recommend sharing these findings back to our grantees?”  While we encourage all funders to, at the minimum, thank their grantees for taking the time to complete the GPR, there are a variety of ways funders can choose to do so. Some have chosen to email all grantees a thank you note; others have publicly published their GPR findings and their reflections. Taking this step to close the loop with grantees not only signals respect for the time they took to offer feedback, but fosters transparency that can improve communication in the funder-grantee relationship.

In this post, I’d like to share three principles we recommend to funders who are looking to close that loop, and hear directly from a funder who presented the findings of their GPR to their grantees, enacting each of these principles.

I recently worked with the fantastic team at Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation who took a unique approach to sharing their GPR results back with their grant partners. The Foundation invited their grantees, who they call grant partners, to CEP’s presentation of their GPR results, and hosted a discussion after the presentation. The Fisher Foundation found that in addition to the benefits of closing the feedback loop, it was an opportunity to more deeply understand their results, gather more feedback from their partners, and build stronger relationships.

Fisher Foundation: The Foundation works in communities through traditional grantmaking in addition to critical investments for impact organizations of all sizes and stages. But what is far more important to us than what the Foundation is known for is how the Foundation is known. This orientation emphasizes the aspirational culture of the organization and our belief that working alongside partners for justice (tzedakah) will repair our world (tikkun olam).

CEP’s GPR is a valuable tool providing the Foundation with an information roadmap designed to meet and/or exceed the expectations of our professional partners in the field. The anonymous format reduces the power dynamics inherent in the sector and provides specific, actionable feedback for the Foundation to implement with the goal of strengthening the partnership and the work of professional partners in the field.

Principle 1:  Internally Align on Key Takeaways

Before crafting a response to grantees, funders should first take the time align on what the GPR findings mean for the organization. I call this step “meaning making.” Some questions that can guide meaning making include: What do the data tell us we should keep doing, start doing, or stop doing? What are the practices that are underlying the results we see? What are priorities highlighted in the report that we are currently acting on? Coming to agreement on what the data mean for the organization internally is the first step to closing the feedback loop.

Fisher Foundation: The CEP team analyzed the findings, looking for trends and comparing our performance to that of similar foundations across the country. While there are various data to analyze, the Foundation team primarily focused on data by the strategic funding area and grant size. The findings were shared with the entire Foundation staff team with a focus on identifying ways to improve our internal approach to grantmaking, reporting and communicating with our partners. With CEP’s assistance, a list of the most salient features of the analysis was created; that became the template for meeting materials to support our conversation with our grant partners. The goals for our time together were to ensure the Foundation’s analysis and understanding of the guidance our partners provided through the GPR, as well as how the staff team was redesigning our approach to implement changes in response to our learnings.

Principle 2: Get Clear on Your Purpose

Knowing how to share the results of your GPR back to your grantees is knowing what your purpose for sharing is. Usually, the purpose is to be transparent and let grant partners know that you have engaged with their feedback. However, there are times where your purpose can also be to invite further communication, or to invite grantees to do some meaning making alongside you as a funder. Knowing the purpose can help shape the format or forum with which you choose to respond.

Fisher Foundation: The Foundation knows the impact of our work is improved when we first listen to the needs of our partners, build trust, strengthen relationships and respond in alignment with their requests. The data from the GPR provided the framework to enable a deeper discussion with our grant partners on a host of topics related to the Foundation’s performance. With that purpose in mind, all who were invited to take the GPR survey were invited to the online presentation of the findings with both CEP and Foundation staff and then to participate in that discussion.

Our time together provided the Foundation with an opportunity to not only convey our appreciation for the time they devoted to completing the survey but to share information about what we believed the analysis was revealing. The conversation gave us an opportunity for our grant partners to confirm and/or further define our understanding and the related opportunities to improve. It also enabled the Foundation to explain how we were working to make internal changes to be a better partner to our professional partners in the field.

One of the requests of our partners was to host more convenings with all of our grant partners to strengthen communication throughout the sector and the region while creating networking opportunities; this simple request can have an outsized benefit for our partners and its value may have been overlooked by the Foundation team. Another request included examining our grant application and reporting processes with a focus on examining the level of information the Foundation truly needs from partners to fully understand the impact of the partnership while balancing the need to be good stewards of the resources.

Principle 3: Commit to a Culture of Listening and Action

The GPR should be one part of a larger practice of listening and acting on what you hear from your grantees. I always encourage funders to center feedback in their broader approach to organizational learning and goal setting. While this can mean a commitment to re-engaging your grant partners with the GPR at a regular cadence, building a practice of listening can be informal as well, whether that’s through a virtual coffee chat with program staff or during a session at an in-person gathering. Regardless of how this feedback is gathered, what is meaningful to grant partners is the confidence that their feedback leads to action on the part of their funders.

Fisher Foundation: The GPR findings continue to serve as a North Star as we further examine and refine our internal practices at the Foundation. We are now sharing the findings with our Board and Committee members to celebrate our successes and discuss opportunities raised inside the GPR that are calling us to rethink our methods, approach, and grantmaking practices in ways that meet the needs of our grant partners.

The GPR findings have been a critical tool in receiving honest feedback about our own performance in the eyes of our professional partners in the field. The Foundation aims to maintain close relationships with everyone in our grant portfolio and the GPR findings will shape the agenda we set in working with our professional partners to improve communication, and in the process, our shared impact.

Kristy Luk is a manager, Assessment and Advisory Services, at CEP. Cynthia Rowell is director, Learning and Impact, at The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation.

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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