Effectively supporting our grantees is key to achieving our goal of providing all children the opportunity to unlock their potential. But we know it can be challenging for grantees to give us honest feedback about our effectiveness due to the power dynamics inherent in philanthropy. That’s why the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) Grantee Perception Report (GPR) is so important, especially for data-driven funders like us. Not only does transparent grantee feedback allow us to understand what’s working, but it can help us see where we’re falling short, informing our plans for the future. 

Based on the results of our 2019 survey, we committed to clarifying our goals and strategy, providing more non-monetary assistance, and improving our grantmaking processes. We timed our 2021 survey to both measure progress on our commitments and receive early feedback from grantees on recent changes we made across our foundation, which included updating our funding model. We are very thankful to the 97 grantees (an incredible 81 percent response rate!) who took the time to provide us with feedback this past year. 

Overall, we were excited to see improvement across the board in nearly every category, which validates and energizes our ongoing efforts to improve our effectiveness as a partner. As always, there are areas for improvement, which we’ll dive into below. 

How we did against our previous commitments

Clarifying goals and strategy

We saw a significant increase in grantee ratings on the clarity of our goals and strategy, which increased from 9th to 45th percentile. This suggests that communications about our funding model resonated with grantees and helped improve transparency around our goals and how we make grantmaking decisions. Nevertheless, grantee feedback indicates some aspects of our communications could be even further improved, including improving the consistency of our communication across individual and foundation-led communication to ensure grantees have clarity on the implications of our funding model and strategic priorities for their work.

Providing more non-monetary assistance

Forty-five percent of grantees, a typical proportion relative to other funders, reported receiving non-monetary assistance from our foundation. Grantee feedback indicates this support is valuable—nearly 95 percent report it benefited their work. And those grantees who reported receiving non-monetary support offered significantly higher ratings on other important measures, including our impact on and understanding of their fields and organizations.

Despite the positive feedback, we had expected to make more progress in this area, given this is a core element of our funding model and a consistent request from our grantees. We fell short due to delayed implementation of our new non-monetary support strategy and know we have to do better in 2022.

Improving our grantmaking processes

Throughout 2020, we sought to improve our grantmaking templates to align with our funding model and respond to grantee requests for improvement from our 2019 survey. We were pleased to see grantee perceptions of our grantmaking processes have improved. While the process remains intense relative to our peers, grantees report both the selection and reporting processes are more helpful and relevant to their work.

Nonetheless, grantee survey responses reflect opportunities to further streamline and improve. For example, our reporting process scored in the 14th percentile for straightforwardness relative to our peers, showing there is more work to be done.

Good process with clear expectations and helpful guidelines/requirements. Nice balance between accountability and flexibility.

  Grantee, 2021 CEP Report

Additional insights

In addition to the progress on our commitments from 2019, there were several other data points that were helpful to see as a team. 

Positive indicators of strong funder-grantee relationships

The goal of our funding model is to identify and fuel the scale of cost-effective, sustainable programs and solutions that accelerate improvement in academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children. Strong and transparent grantee-funder relationships are key to our work, especially since funding and pursuing innovation is inherently risky. That’s one of the reasons why the GPR measures related to funder-grantee relationship dynamics are particularly important to us. 

We were excited to see that we improved across the board on survey questions related to the strength of our relationships with grantees and now rank above the median for all funders for nearly all of these questions. Grantees feel we’re respectful and honest, and feel more comfortable approaching us with challenges than in 2019. And we scored in the 90th percentile compared to other funders for our responsiveness, which means if you call us with a problem—we pick up! 

I always feel like we are truly partnering with Overdeck rather than our work being overseen by them. The tone the staff sets is just wonderful. They care!

  Grantee, 2021 CEP Report

Improvements in field impact and advancing knowledge

Ratings of our impact on the field and our success at advancing field knowledge improved significantly, with grantees ranking us in the top quartile of funders for the latter.

Overdeck Family Foundation is viewed as a leader in both philanthropy and education and brings considerable leadership, influence, and resources to improve the field.

  Grantee, 2021 CEP Report

This improvement reflects our efforts to more intentionally and consistently communicate about our impact and our work, a strategic priority we undertook in response to grantee feedback from our 2019 grantee survey.

Mixed perceptions on our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

The survey showed mixed perceptions of our commitment to DEI efforts. On a series of statements about DEI work, we saw that 80 percent of our grants benefit historically disadvantaged groups, relative to 70 percent at the average funder. Grantees also rated us at the median in their agreement that staff embody a strong commitment to DEI. 

At the same time, we saw that fewer of our grantees are led by people of color compared to the average funder (19 percent versus 27 percent) and those grantees rated us lower on some measures including approachability, understanding intended beneficiary needs, and openness to grantees’ ideas. This indicates we may be missing opportunities to identify and support organizations led by leaders who reflect the diverse populations we serve, and are subsequently missing out on the knowledge, insights, and understanding gained through lived experience to make our collective work stronger.

Our 2022 commitments

Grantee feedback has already shaped our plans for 2022 and beyond. In addition to continuing to strengthen our relationships with grantees, here’s what we’re committing to:

Increase impact on grantees

Many grantees requested more multi-year, flexible funding to support their scale and impact goals, which is a key feature of our updated funding model. For 2022, we commit to continuing to provide larger multi-year General Operating Support (GOS) grants to Direct Impact organizations after an initial successful pilot grant. We expect this longer and more flexible funding to allow our grantee partners to use dollars in the most strategic ways, improving their work along the way. 

Additionally, we know supporting capacity building for grantees is a key component of increasing our impact on their work and organizations. Some steps we’ve already taken to ensure improvement in this area for 2022 include dedicating personnel to organizing our non-monetary support strategy; partnering with third-party providers who can help organizations improve in key capacity-building areas such as revenue models, impact evaluations, and cost analysis; and engaging in additional training and upskilling opportunities for our internal team so they can be better partners to our grantees.

Continue to lead the field

Feedback about our impact on the field was consistently strong, and we plan to double down in this area in alignment with our funding model. In 2022, we plan to improve our impact on grantees and the fields in which they operate by supporting validation efforts, funding more research, and ensuring that insights gathered through research and our grantmaking are widely shared. With added capacity to our communications team, you can expect to hear from us more regularly, including through our inaugural report of grantmaking impact, which will be released on January 25th. 

Improve our grantmaking processes and systems

Mixed feedback on our grantmaking process means we need to continue improving the clarity and efficiency of our systems, especially when it comes to reporting. In 2022, we plan to transition to a new grants management system (GMS), which will enable a more efficient process. Using the feedback grantees provided, as well as borrowing from best practices from the #fixtheform initiative, we will seek to improve the experience of applying for and receiving a grant from us. Grantees should stay tuned for more information about these changes and what it means for their work.

As we transition to a new GMS, we will also look critically at our diligence and screening processes to identify opportunities to intentionally diversify our sourcing efforts. Learning that we are underfunding leaders of color relative to our peers made us want to better understand why this is happening, and what the implications are for our overall impact.

In parting

We want to sincerely thank our grantees for providing open and transparent feedback that allows us to reflect and improve going forward. We hope our 2022 commitments resonate with you and that you see your fingerprints in shaping them. We invite you to continue to provide feedback and additional ideas to your foundation contact or anonymously via Grantadvisor.org, which is a website that allows grantseekers to share their experience with and give feedback to funders. 

We also want to express our gratitude to CEP for all they do to improve the field of philanthropy. To any funders reading this who have not yet partnered with CEP, we encourage you to explore what the GPR can do for you! Venture philanthropy funders specifically are under-represented in CEP’s data set, limiting the field’s understanding of the relative impact and perception of different styles of funding. 

While the education sector continues to experience significant challenges, we are excited for what lies ahead and look forward to strengthening our work in 2022 to create even greater impact for children, families, and educators. 

And with that, we’ll sign off and wish everyone a happy, healthy, and data-informed year.

See additional highlights from the 2021 Grantee Perception Report here:

Download The report


Header photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Graphs provided by the Center for Effective Philanthropy