How We Work

Grantee & Partner Survey Report


July 21, 2014

Dear Grantees, Partners, and Colleagues:

I am excited to be writing to you as the new CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One thing that’s absolutely clear to me already is how much we depend on all of you to help us achieve our mission.  One of my top priorities is ensuring that we continue to build strong relationships with you that enhance our ability to accelerate impact together. 

You have my personal commitment that this is a focus for me and my colleagues. Toward that end, I have decided to make the results of this year’s grantee and partner survey more accessible and transparent than ever.

Mothers bring their children to Laura's Maternity Home & Clinic for vaccinations and health checks in Accra, Ghana, 2014.

As we have in past years, we surveyed our grantees in 2014 to learn more about their experience in working with us.  We invited 2,647 grantees to participate in the survey and heard back from 2,000 (a 76 percent response rate). 

In addition, we received completed surveys from 19 non-grantee partners and 76 contractors with whom we are working on direct charitable expense (DCE) contracts. We also worked with an independent firm to interview 98 individuals from some of our largest partners across the foundation and around the world.

Clearly, many of you invested considerable time in helping us learn more about how we are doing our job. We greatly appreciate the willingness of so many of you to take valuable time to respond to the survey and the interviews.

I’m pleased with the thoughtfulness of the feedback that you have shared with us. Because we think it is so important for us to be transparent with you, I’m sharing our foundation-wide survey results with you in their entirety for the first time.

We should not be happy with the results of this survey. They indicate that at least some of your interactions with us are negative – or at least less constructive than they could be. I am committed to improving our performance. After all, our relationship with grantees and partners is the lifeblood of our foundation. We should not be content with anything less than excellent performance in this area.

Here are some specific problems that you identified for us:

  1. Lack of clarity and consistency in communications with our grantees and partners.
  2. Disruption in our relationships with grantees and partners when their primary contact at the foundation changes (one in four grantees experienced a change in the past six months).
  3. Lack of sufficient understanding of the strategies and goals of our grantees and partners – and a failure to convey to you our own strategies, goals, and objectives.

Not all of the findings were negative. You cited the following strengths as well:

  1. Grantees generally believe that we treat them with respect, and they are generally comfortable about approaching the foundation if a problem arises.
  2. Our streamlined investment process is showing promise in reducing the complexity of working with us.
  3. Grantees indicate that they find the foundation to be relatively collaborative in our approach to defining grant outcomes – and fairly flexible in making adjustments to outcomes over time.

Several years ago, we established Our Commitment to Grantees, which includes three tenets: quality interactions, clear and consistent communications, and opportunities for feedback. From the results of this survey, it’s clear that we have work to do on all three fronts.

I’m working with leadership and employees throughout the Gates Foundation to identify the areas where we are coming up short. I’m committed to taking effective and sustained action to get us to where we need to be, and building the productive collaborations that we know are necessary to advance our shared missions.

We’re planning to conduct the survey and interviews regularly and I’ll be following up with you to share assessments of our progress. I look forward to our ongoing conversation about how we can strengthen our partnership to help the people we serve.

Sincerely yours,

Sue Desmond-Hellmann Signature 

Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH
Chief Executive Officer

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