PFF believes in building and maintaining strong relationships with grantee partners and in providing opportunities for grantees to share their perspectives and participate in shaping our work. This belief is informed, in part, by the experiences of grantmakers across the country who are seeking to engage in deep, authentic relationships with grantees and the communities they serve. According to the 2010 report Nothing About Us Without Us, written by J. Courtney Bourns and published by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) “Grantmakers can learn a lot by listening more intently to their grantees, by creating opportunities for nonprofits to share their challenges and perspectives, and by ensuring that the grantee voice guides their philanthropic work. The bottom line: It’s hard to know what grantees truly need, and how to meet those needs more effectively, if you don’t ask.”
In March, PFF put out a survey to solicit feedback from our grantee partners. Initially the survey was intended to inform the development of our capacity building work. As the project moved forward, it expanded in scope, encompassing our grant making strategy, relationships with grantees, and our efforts to support courageous conversations about institutional oppression.
We engaged with this work guided by four key beliefs:
1) We have to engage in a range of strategies to incorporate the voices and perspectives of grantees into our work and we must be open to receiving candid feedback.
2) We must acknowledge that honest feedback, even when anonymously solicited is hard to get.
3) We must be transparent with what we learn and report back to those who took the time to share their perspectives with us.
4) We must go into the work prepared to act on what we hear.
It is our intention to adhere to these tenets as we carry this work forward over the coming year.
Through this post, we will begin to do the work of item three above, sharing what we learned with grantee partners and our broader network.
The survey was taken by a total of 17 grantees who, among other things, shared deep reflections on how the foundation has supported grantee efforts to address systems of oppression from the inside out and how we can continue to improve and build relationships that do not replicate harmful patterns of power and privilege.
Survey Participants By Role
One of the areas where we received the most positive feedback was the alignment of our work with our stated mission, goals, and values. The majority of survey respondents strongly agreed with that statement. Our mission and goals have changed a great deal over the past few years and we are proud that grantees see our commitment to and alignment with the foundation’s new direction, especially since we are asking grantees to be in alignment with those shifts.
We were also rated highly on our work to encourage and support grantees efforts to partner with others in the field. What is notable about these favorable results is that these are both areas where we have taken very intentional strategic steps (through mini grants, events, and one on one conversations with grantees) to make this happen. It is exciting to find out that we have been successful in those efforts.
The survey results also helped us to identify key areas where we can continue to grow and take steps to ensure that all grantees have the same access to resources and opportunities offered through the foundation. For example, though many grantees strongly agreed that we have helped them to leverage resources from other foundations, a few grantees rated us on the lower end of the spectrum on that question. This indicates to us that we should take steps to ensure that we are doing this work in a broader way and offer more opportunities to grantees to build their fundraising muscles, connect with potential funders, and promote their work through the foundation’s networks.
In addition to that area, in the coming year, we will take steps to clarify and communicate our grant making strategy and process and to open up further avenues to receive feedback from grantees, listen to them more closely, and seek to more deeply understand their perspectives, strategy, and goals as organizations. These three strategies are in the service of one core goal: enhance the foundation’s ability to listen and really hear grantees challenges and hopes for their work as well as to hear feedback about PFF’s work with grantees.
We received a wealth of feedback in the survey about our efforts to engage young people. We were rated quite highly by survey respondents on our efforts to include the voices of youth in our work. We are excited to hear this and we feel that it is important to acknowledge that our grantee survey was primarily taken by adult staff (only one youth leader completed a survey). Soliciting more direct feedback from young people is a priority for us as we move this work forward.
Respondents also clearly communicated that we must do more to make space for young people to connect with one another and to participate in PFF workshops and trainings. “The very fact that respondents called for more PFF-convened spaces for youth to network and connect is, in itself, a strong indicator of how deeply youth voice and leadership – as a value and in practice – is embraced by the organizations with which we partner.” Says PFF President Laura McCargar. “At the same time, it is an important push for PFF to explore ways in which we can continue to deepen our efforts to institutionalize youth voice and leadership in our own foundation in a way that is most authentic and meaningful.”
We are deeply grateful to everyone who participated in the survey for their time, thoughtfulness, and candor. We are excited to move forward on this information as part of our commitment to continuous learning. In coming months, we will discuss these results further as a team, bringing our board of trustees into the conversation. We will engage in further dialogue with grantees, and develop an action plan for building on our strengths and addressing areas that have been highlighted for improvement. We have made great strides on our journey to where we are now and look forward to the journey ahead.