The power dynamic in philanthropy can make candid feedback a rare commodity for foundations. That’s why earlier this year we invited our grantee partners to share their opinions on our work and their experience with Meyer by participating anonymously in the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Survey.
This valuable assessment tool offers Meyer the ability to see how we are performing from the viewpoint of grant recipients, as well as where we stand relative to other foundations. Nearly three-quarters of our grantees (124 organizations) participated in the survey. To everyone who took the time to respond, thank you! Your responses helped us understand where we are on track and where we have room for improvement. We appreciate your candor, and especially your constructive criticism.
As part of our commitment to transparency, we are pleased to share our full Grantee Perception Report with the broader community. Below, we’ve outlined a few of the highlights—and some of the actions we’ll be taking in response:
Communications and transparency
An overwhelming 96% of grantees felt that we had clearly communicated our strategic plan, and 93% said they understood what we sought to accomplish with this plan. According to our colleagues at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, these are unusually high scores. As we continue to implement our strategic plan, we remain committed to communicating our work and to providing opportunities for grantees and other community members to help shape future strategies.
We believe that advancing racial and ethnic equity is essential to accomplishing our goals to create a better region, and 93% of grantees agreed. While we were able to clearly communicate our new strategic plan—along with its intention to advance equity—only 64% of respondents indicated that they felt our staff has the background and skills needed to do so, and only 45% felt the same of our board. Our board and senior leadership team have discussed this feedback, and board members and staff continue to participate in and seek opportunities to become stronger advocates for equity. Our board’s governance committee is also committed to recruiting new board members with the background and skills to advance this work, and we expect to announce several new board members in 2016.
Impact on the region
While 96% of grantees felt that the Foundation has been an effective leader in the Greater Washington area, our perceived impact has not been felt evenly throughout the region. DC-based grantees gave us high marks, while Maryland and Virginia grantees reported that they felt less impact from us on their communities. We were not surprised by these results, and our goal of having a greater impact in suburban jurisdictions is one of the reasons we hired new program officers in 2015 to focus on specific geographies, rather than subject areas. We believe that staffing strategy will help us better understand the context and build stronger partnerships outside DC in the years to come.
Interaction with staff
Although grantees said many positive things about their work with Meyer program staff, many respondents reported a lower level of engagement than we’d like to see, particularly around final reports and efforts to assess the results of their work. We’ve been having conversations inside the Foundation for several years about how to make grant reports more meaningful and useful (without increasing the burden on grantees), and how to share what we’re learning among our team and with grantees. We’re glad to hear our grantees are also eager for more engagement. We believe that our recent efforts to spread meetings and site visits throughout the calendar year, rather than only in the context of a pending grant request, will create new opportunities for interaction and shared learning. We also recognize the need to become clearer about our approach to evaluation and measuring impact, to share that information more broadly, and to create opportunities for capacity-building around evaluation. This is one of our highest priorities for next year.
This has been a pivotal year for Meyer: we continued to strengthen our vision and stance toward advancing racial equity in the region; we announced the inaugural recipients of the Julie L. Rogers Sabbatical Program grants; and we made our first-ever impact investment in support of affordable housing in the region. None of this would have been possible without great partners and support along the way.
As we look to 2017, we are challenging ourselves to both build on our strengths and to improve our work based on the feedback we received. Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey, and to the many friends and partners who support our work!