How We’re Listening, Learning, and Looking Forward

Austin Long

Part of my work on the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) assessment and advisory services team is to help funders listen and learn by raising up the voices of grantees, declined applicants, donors, staff, and a variety of other stakeholders. This candid, confidential feedback from some of their most important partners is crucial to help funders of every type and size achieve the impact they’re seeking.

As you might expect, feedback is also critical for CEP’s continued learning and development. We regularly seek input from a variety of perspectives, including through a question at the end of every one of our surveys about what respondents believe CEP can improve, research from CEP and others, advice from philanthropy-serving organizations, and individual conversations with hundreds of funders throughout the year. Each of these is helpful. But we know we also need a third-party to help us assess our work with a clear and unbiased approach that can create confidentiality and candor. So, for over a decade, we’ve also worked with Learning for Action (LFA) to regularly conduct confidential surveys of both CEP’s broad philanthropic stakeholders and users of CEP’s assessment and advisory services. At the end of 2021 we received the most recent set of results from these surveys, with responses from over 350 funders, including 65 who commissioned an engagement with us.

In particular, we wanted to understand funders’ experiences as users of CEP’s assessment and advisory services and explore the extent to which CEP’s resources have helped funders reflect on their efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic and movement for racial justice.

Just as we encourage funders to share their assessments publicly, CEP is also committed to transparency — it’s in that spirit that we publish the full set of results of our 2021 LFA assessment on our website.

So, what did we hear and how are we using this valuable feedback? Overall, funders that responded:

  • Found CEP’s resources to be “somewhat to very useful” for reflecting on their efforts related to the movement for racial justice and COVID-19 (82 percent and 81 percent of respondents, respectively);
  • Are highly satisfied with their CEP engagement (rating a 6.4 on a 1-7 scale);
  • And are unanimously likely to recommend CEP’s assessments and advisory services (100 percent).

Perhaps most importantly, we also confirmed that funders use these results to make real change in their organizations, which were most frequently in the areas of communications, grantmaking processes, and organizational strategy. We’re always inspired when we see funders like Atlassian Foundation International, Co-Impact, Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, Overdeck Family Foundation, Oxfam Voice, and Surdna Foundation write thoughtfully about how they’re responding to feedback from grantees, donors, and other stakeholders.

Of course, the LFA survey results revealed important areas of opportunity for CEP as well. Specifically related to our assessment and advisory services engagements, our team has already prioritized a number of specific improvements to focus on. These include: deepening insights through new survey questions, new comparison groups in our reports so funders can benchmark against those they consider closer peers, expanding our implementation support, connecting users of CEP’s assessments to relevant research and best practices to help them make change, and helping funders to collect and apply even more data related to DEI and demographic characteristics. We’re also building more learning communities that will launch later this year in order to help funders learn from their shared challenges and approaches.

We are taking this feedback to heart and are working to create opportunities and approaches that help and encourage all our staff and board members (and stakeholders more broadly) to explore new ideas about how CEP can best help funders create more impact through their work. We invite you to share any of your ideas in the comments here as well.

We are grateful for this feedback and the several hundred funders who took the time to provide it. We’re also grateful to the LFA team that has patiently helped us collect and understand this feedback. We’re stronger and better when we listen, learn, and ultimately act on this important feedback.

Austin Long is senior director, assessment and advisory services, at CEP. To learn more about working with CEP to survey your grantees, contact him at austinl[at]cep.org.

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