Hearing Our Grantee Partners

Thursday, December 18, 2014

This month Becky Youngman and Wanda Kirby presented a report on the Palm Beach School Board Johnson Scholars program. This was one of four grantee (or potential grantee) presentations made to the Grant Program Committee at its December 6th meeting. A fifth presentation was a third party evaluation of a Foundation grantee, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. These presentations consumed about two thirds of a packed agenda; it is difficult to imagine how we could spend more time listening to grantees at these meetings.

We also listen to grantees and prospective grantees at site visits, which often give us an opportunity to interact with students, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the programs that we fund. We convene events such as the June SUSF meeting and the October meeting of the Entrepreneurship Scholarship representatives. This gives us the opportunity to meet and listen to our grantees talk about their work and the people that they (and we) ultimately serve.

Some of our listening is at meetings or events organized by our grantees, where we show up to meet students or otherwise participate. Examples are the Palm Beach Scholars Ceremony in April or the Direct Connect reception and luncheon. We are cultivating these opportunities and they are becoming more frequent. In some programs, such as Berklee City Music and CAPE, we officially participate as advisors. What better way is there to listen and understand?

In a research paper published this fall, Hearing from Those We Seek to Help, the Center for Effective Philanthropy stated that “Nonprofit leaders believe that most of their foundation funders lack a deep understanding of their intended beneficiaries’ needs – and they believe that this lack of understanding is reflected in foundations’ funding priorities and programmatic strategies.”

On the positive side, the study finds that “about one-third of nonprofit leaders say that the foundations that best understand their intended beneficiaries actively engage with their organizations.” Favorable comments about these Foundations included “While they have much to teach us, we have much to teach [and they] realize that” and “They form a true partnership with us…they care not just about the program they are funding but about the entire organization, and they want us to succeed.”

The Paper concludes with 3 broad questions, which I will paraphrase as follows: 1. What does the Foundation do to understand experiences and needs of its ultimate beneficiaries? 2. How does the Foundation assess whether or not its programs actually reflect the needs of the ultimate beneficiaries? 3. Does the Foundation provide financial or other support to assist grantees to obtain and interpret feedback from the ultimate beneficiaries?

We make a practice of listening to our grantee partners. Do we always hear them? Do we always understand the experience and needs of our ultimate beneficiaries? What can we do in the coming year to improve?

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!