Working with Grantees: Why Good Relationships Matter

After nine years providing comparative grantee survey results to some 200 foundations, we still get resistance to the idea that how grantees experience their relationships with foundation funders really matters.

“It’s about impact,” foundation officers often tell us. “So grantees views of us don’t matter.  Grantees are just  a means to an end.”

This much is right: it is about impact.  Or it should be.  That’s precisely why forging good relationships with grantees matters so much.

Paul Beaudet of the Wiburforce Foundation put it like this when we interviewed him for one of our research studies:

At the very basic level, solid relationships with grantees are critically important because grantees are a very good source of information for us. They are the ones doing the on-the-ground work. They’re likely to have a much more nuanced and deeper understanding of the context for the work that needs to be done in the particular places that we care about. If we have high-quality, long-term, trust-based relationships with grantees, we believe that we’ll have better knowledge around which we can make smart investments in their organizational and programmatic capacity, helping them to achieve their outcomes more efficiently and effectively. Since our investments are initially predicated on a clear alignment between grantees’ programmatic outcomes and our own, if they can achieve their outcomes, we are confident that we will see the kind of sustained change that is consistent with our mission.

Christine DeVita of the Wallace Foundation put it this way in a letter to Wallace grantees:

Because foundations like ours can only achieve their missions through the work of others, it is important that we have strong and effective partnerships with all our grantees: the organizations we fund to try our innovative solutions to important social issues; the researchers we commission to contribute to the field’s knowledge and to help evaluate what’s working; and our communication partners, whose efforts are crucial in getting both issues and solutions before policymakers, practitioners, and thought leaders.

So what does it take to have strong relationships with grantees?  Who are the foundation program officers who do the very best job at this?  What, precisely, do they do?

That’s what we will focus on at a special event November 9 in San Francisco.  Registration is free and there is some space still available.  I hope to see you there.

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