Since our Foundation’s inception, we have conducted an annual grantee survey in order to gain feedback and improve our grantmaking. We’ve always administered this survey ourselves and we learned from it each year. However, even though it was anonymous, we weren’t sure how much weight to put on the results.
This past year, with more grantees than ever and five years of grantmaking under our belt, we decided it was time to professionalize our feedback loop in a way that would give us more information while providing additional anonymity for our grantee partners. In October, more than 90 of our grantees participated in Overdeck Family Foundation’s first ever Grantee Perception Report (GPR) survey, administered by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). The GPR survey offers grantees a fully anonymous opportunity to provide both quantitative and qualitative feedback to the foundations that fund their work. Each Foundation’s survey results are compared to CEP’s dataset of more than 250 funders, which is helpful in contextualizing responses and understanding how we’re doing compared to other grantmakers.
The survey provided our team much-appreciated feedback on areas where we’re doing well, as well as areas where we have room for improvement. We are incredibly thankful for our grantees’ transparency and honesty, especially in the latter category as we recognize it can be difficult for grant-receiving organizations to be fully candid with grantmakers.
The feedback we received gave us reasons to both celebrate and reflect.
The Foundation has a major impact on the field of mathematics education and public outreach. They are well regarded as thoughtful funders who follow through with the substantial support that is required in order to truly make a difference.
We were excited to see how highly our grantees ranked us for understanding and having an expertise of their fields, as well as advancing knowledge that leads the field to new thinking and practice. Qualitative feedback underscored how our focus on differentiated investment areas and research made a difference not only to an organization but a field: “The Foundation has a major impact on the field of mathematics education and public outreach. They are well regarded as thoughtful funders who follow through with the substantial support that is required in order to truly make a difference,” wrote one grantee.
We were also enthusiastic about the scores we received for having an impact on grantee organizations that received programmatic (or direct impact) grants. “The Foundation has had an impact on our organization through their effort to scale our programs in experimental ways. OFF is not afraid to try new things and doesn’t instill a fear of failure that is often common with grants,” wrote a grantee.
Words like “engaged,” “thoughtful,” “innovative,” “partner,” and “data”–all descriptors that tie into our organizational values–were commonly used to describe both the Foundation and our grantmaking. It was clear that our grantees appreciated our commitment to rigor and evidence-building, as well as our desire to learn and innovate.
The Foundation is not afraid to try new things and doesn't instill a fear of failure that is often common with grants.
But as a Foundation focused on data-informed decision making and continuous improvement, it was also clear that there were areas where we fell far below expectations. The feedback for these areas was constructive and actionable, and today I want to share 1) three areas that emerged as needing improvement; and 2) next steps we’re taking as a Foundation to continue strengthening our partnerships our grantees so, together, we can have greater impact.
It was clear from the survey that, while our grantees appreciated the rigor of our grantmaking and believed it generated useful information, we could do much more to ensure a straightforward and aligned process. Our grantmaking process was almost 50% more time intensive than the average funder and, while we received high scores for the alignment between grant goals and an organization’s desired outcomes, we received low scores for the process’ relevance and adaptability. Especially concerning to us were the scores we received for the extent to which our process was straightforward (5th percentile) and aligned with the timing of grantee work (13th percentile).
To address this feedback, we have been redesigning all our grantmaking documents, from due diligence and selection to reporting and monitoring. In the next few months, grantees will begin to see new documents that reflect their ask for a more coherent and efficient end-to-end process. The documents will continue to be rigorous, but they are more clear and comprehensive, which should reduce the need to go back and forth with Foundation staff. In addition to saving grantees time, we expect this new process to provide clarity of expectations for timing, what we look for when we make funding decisions, and our definitions of “success.”
Rethinking our grantmaking processes has been arduous, but it was clear from our GPR results that it was a necessary next step as we continue to think about how to find, fund, and grow the most impactful organizations.
Another popular area of feedback was interest in non-monetary supports that would help our grantees grow their organizations and deepen their impact. This included requests for more grantee convenings and funder introductions, as well as help with specific categories such as revenue model development, marketing and communications, DEI, data collection and management, Board development, and strategic planning.
While we do not have the bandwidth to address all these areas this year, we will be committing nearly $1 million to dedicated support for increasing organizations’ data talent and capacity to collect and analyze data; conducting cost analysis and financial modeling; and collecting beneficiary feedback to drive internal strategic planning and improvements. This funding will be divided among several different initiatives, including our continued support for Strategic Data Fellows and Listen for Good, as well as expanded support for financial modeling through a consultant. We believe placing Strategic Data Fellows into grantee organizations will continue to provide grantees added capacity for building data infrastructure and collecting/analyzing data in a way that positions them to scale down the road. Similarly, providing grantees the opportunity to engage Listen for Good’s survey tools and resources is key to helping them gather beneficiary feedback, an important component of strategic planning.
We will also be expanding our efforts to bring grantees together by hosting more formal and informal convenings and gatherings. Our goal is for these to increase cross-grantee learning and collaboration, as well as access to other funders.
Clarity of goals and strategy
We learned from the GPR that, because grantees received most of their updates from their portfolio contact, there was a lack of clarity about how each grant fit into the Foundation’s strategy. And while grantees rated individual communication with Foundation staff to helpful, many also expressed an interest in hearing more from the Foundation so they could have a broader perspective and understanding of the work we do across the education landscape.
With five years of grantmaking (and learning) under our belt, it’s become clear that it’s time to communicate more frequently and directly with our grantee partners and the broader philanthropic community. We will continue to share grantee news monthly on our blog, as well as writing feature stories that highlight Bright Spots, Why We Funded, Research, and our Foundation’s Perspectives. Starting at the end of Q2, we will also launch a quarterly email newsletter with updates on our strategy and impact across portfolios. We’re currently in the process of aligning on a “North Star” for all our work, which will help draw connections between the outcomes of individual grants and portfolio goals, as well as between portfolio and Foundation goals. Hopefully this work will not only help clarify what our goals across the Foundation, but will help grantees feel more connected to the Foundation and each other.
I hope these next steps resonate with our grantees and the wider philanthropic community. We could all benefit by taking time to gather feedback, reflect on it, and plan for the future. I am so excited to continue strengthening our work and to partner with all of you to create even greater impact for kids and families in the years to come.
Before I end this post, I want to reiterate how thankful we are to our grantees for their feedback and participation in this survey. I also want to express my gratitude to the CEP for providing our grantees a way to share their thoughts. It would be impossible to improve our organization and continue to be strong partners without this level of transparency and feedback.