June 15, 2010
In my annual letter last year, I announced that we were working with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to survey all of our active grantees, in an effort to improve the quality of our external partnerships. Those partnerships are our lifeblood, and I said I was making it a priority for everybody at the foundation to listen more carefully to what our partners in the field have to tell us. I also promised to report back on what we found out—and on how we are responding to the feedback. That is why I am writing this letter.
I appreciate our grantee partners’ willingness to be part of this process. The GPR has taught us a great deal, and it is already helping us improve the way we work.
Before I get into the details of what we learned and how we’re responding, I want to explain a little more about the Grantee Perception Report (GPR).It’s a comprehensive survey of grantees that covers a range of issues, and because so many organizations use the GPR—it has been commissioned by nearly 200 philanthropic funders—it allows us to be benchmarked against other funders in the field.
The CEP surveyed 1,544 of our grantees, all our active grantees between June 1, 2008 and May 31, 2009. 1,020 responded, and the 66 percent response rate is typical of this survey.
Now, on to the results.
First, compared to other funders in the CEP’s comparative database, the foundation received strong ratings for our work in grantees’ fields. In particular, they said we have a positive impact on knowledge, policy, and practice in our strategy areas.
But we received lower than typical ratings on many other aspects of the grantee experience.
Many of our grantee partners said we are not clear about our goals and strategies, and they think we don’t understand their goals and strategies.
They are confused by our decision-making and grantmaking processes.
Because of staff turnovers, many of our grantee partners have had to manage multiple Program Officer transitions during the course of their grant, which creates more work.
Finally, they say we are inconsistent in our communications, and often unresponsive.
We take this feedback very seriously, because we understand that some of these barriers are preventing our partners and us from having our maximum impact.
The GPR results were the focus of many management team meetings at the beginning of the year. In the spring, we built on those high-level meetings with a foundation-wide dialogue, which helped our staff understand the results and collectively analyze what they mean to us.
Through this process, we have developed a long-term vision of success and a series of action steps to get there. We don’t see this process as a popularity contest. Even in the most productive partnerships, there is bound to be some tension. But we are absolutely committed to building relationships that will help us do our best work.
I have set a simple three year goal for us. By 2013, the foundation and our grantee partners will have stronger partnerships characterized by three things:
- First, we will understand each others’ roles, goals, and strategies
- Second, we will have open, two-way communication
- Third, they will have a clear understanding of our decision-making and grantmaking processes
To reach these goals, we identified five short–term action steps to improve our grantee partnerships immediately. Specifically, our commitments to our grantee partners in the short-term are:
- To better explain how our proposal and approval process works
- To clearly communicate the point of contact for grants
- To orient all new grantees, set expectations, and answer their questions and hear their concerns at the outset.
- To provide timely and substantive responses to all the progress reports they submit
- To open up new channels of communication, including more frequent check-in calls with program managers and conference calls that give all our grantee partners the chance to ask questions of our executives.
We are also now working on a long-term action plan to address more systemic issues that affect our relationships with our grantees. We are committed to building strong partnerships, and we realize that doing so may require fundamental changes in the way we work.
With that in mind, I am also committed to commissioning another GPR in 2013 to check on our progress toward our goals.