How We Listen and Learn: Gathering and Responding to Grantee Feedback
As a foundation working in deep collaboration with grantee partners around the world, we at Arcus are acutely aware that the way we work with partners as well as how we are perceived by them is important to track, evaluate, and, when beneficial, improve. This helps us understand our level of impact and our alignment with our standards and values. That’s why since 2008, Arcus has collected grantee input on a periodic basis by participating in the Grantee Perception Report (GPR), a standardized survey of grantee perceptions administered by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP).
This year, we worked with CEP to customize the standardized GPR survey to focus on specific measures relevant to Arcus’ performance goals and values-aligned grantmaking practices. For example, we wanted to evaluate the impact of our long-time requirement that all grantees have a board-approved equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) protections included among their employment practices. Our hope was that this data would help us inform any future efforts to include other potential sustainability and equity-related policies.
In addition to surveying grantees, Arcus also interviewed a sample of our philanthropic partners—peer funders and philanthropic infrastructure organizations—to learn more about how we are perceived among these peers in our sector.
Arcus sought grantee feedback against four key performance goals. Here is what we heard:
On the relevance of Arcus’ strategies to grantee priorities:
- Grantees and philanthropic partners very strongly agree that Arcus seeks to understand cultural and socioeconomic factors, the most pressing needs affecting their work, and new ideas created from communities most affected.
- Grantees agree that Arcus seeks input about the movements from grantees themselves.
On the quality of Arcus’ communications practices:
- Grantees and peer funders strongly agree that Arcus communicates clearly and consistently, a significant improvement from a similar survey conducted in 2015.
- Grantees strongly agree that they feel well-informed of the foundation’s strategic priorities, and it is clear how their work connects to the foundation’s strategies.
These positive responses were especially prevalent among grantees working in Africa, respondents who identified themselves as the Executive Director of their organizations, and grantees receiving General Operating Support grants across both Arcus programs.
While most grantees rated Arcus positively, grantees who identified as Spanish speakers and respondents across both programs who identified as women or as persons living with disabilities trended slightly less positively against the grantee average.
On the quality of Arcus’ relationships:
- Grantees and philanthropic partners strongly agree that Arcus staff are appropriately responsive to them. New grantees across both programs trended especially high on staff responsiveness.
- Grantees report feeling very comfortable approaching the foundation if a problem arises, though grantees who identify as a person living with a disability trended less positively, though still favorably overall, on this measure.
- Grantees strongly agree that the foundation treats their organization as well as other grantees equitably. Respondents across both programs with women-identified Executive Directors and organizational budgets under US$5M trended less positively, though still favorably, on equitable treatment.
- Grantees are less positive—or lukewarm—in their perceptions of the extent to which Arcus facilitates collaborations among grantee organizations.
- Philanthropic partners praised Arcus’ intentional and focused approach to collaboration and suggested increasing collaboration and coordination with a wider range of funders.
On the extent to which Arcus contributes to its program fields:
- Grantees characterize Arcus as having a very strong impact on grantee fields. This represented a significant improvement from the survey conducted in 2015.
- Grantees strongly perceive that their association with Arcus strengthens their credibility with other organizations and helps them secure other funding. Peer funders validated this perception, describing Arcus as a stamp of approval, noting our high-quality due diligence process.
- Grantees strongly agree that Arcus is advancing the state of knowledge in their fields—another significant improvement from 2015.
There is uniform interest across both program areas to learn more about what Arcus is doing, learning, and discovering—suggesting that learning dissemination should remain a priority for the foundation.
Grantee ratings showed a positive interest in and desire for Arcus to express opinions publicly on issues of concern to grantee organizations. This was suggested by grantees as a way Arcus could increase our impact, especially among U.S.-based grantee respondents across both programs who identify as people of color.
On measures related to Arcus’ values-aligned grantmaking practices, including our EEO policy requirement, we heard:
- In terms of accessibility in our grantmaking practices, grantees strongly agreed that Arcus’ grantmaking process was accessible to their organizations, that the time to fulfill grantmaking requirements was appropriate, and that the grantmaking system was easy to navigate. Women respondents, respondents from women-led organizations, persons living with a disability, and organizations with budgets under US$5M rated lower on some of these items, though still quite favorably overall. Concerns around character limits in the grantmaking system, as well as requests for additional information on timelines and requirements of the application and renewal processes, were highlighted.
- Arcus’ EEO policy requirement resulted in about a 25% policy change among our current grantee organizations. We also noted that among the organizations that added a SOGI-inclusive policy because of Arcus’ requirement, 20% took additional actions like diversifying their staff or developing anti-harassment policies. One grantee described a successful internal campaign to add a restroom for all genders.
While Arcus is grateful to have received the positive findings in the survey, our deep commitment to improvement means that we will be focusing on a few areas where grantees and philanthropic partners indicated that we could strengthen our practices. Thus, we have decided to use the results to refine the User Experience to ensure values-based practices are reflected and make technical improvements that can meet the needs of more marginalized stakeholders. We will also examine the role we play in our movements and sector with an eye to how we might better deploy that role to maximize impact.
With respect to User Experience, we want to ensure that Arcus’ grant-related processes, practices, and systems are accessible, user-friendly, and treat our grantees equitably. To that end, we will:
- Make technical improvements to our online Fluxx grantmaking system and our grantmaking practices to facilitate the ease and accessibility of grant application and reporting requirements. Our team is already exploring potential improvements, including a pilot to explore oral reporting as an alternative to traditional written reporting.
- We will develop Grantee Experience Standards to codify what we define as a positive experience for grantees and distribute internal and external Grantmaking Guides to all applicants in order to strengthen our grant-related interactions, technical assistance, and process clarity.
In pursuing these improvements, we will integrate best and emerging practices, centering the perspectives and needs of women and trans grantees, Spanish speakers, and persons living with disabilities.
With respect to Arcus’ movement and sector participation, our goal is to consider how Arcus’ actions beyond grantmaking can strategically address the needs of our movements. We’ll be considering our participation in terms of:
- Enabling and increasing connection and collaboration among our grantees.
- Collaborating and coordinating with other funders.
- Influencing messaging and discourse on issues that matter to our movements, our sector, and the attainment of our strategic goals.
On these subjects, we will pursue greater understanding of the perspectives and needs of grantees with smaller staffs, women and trans grantees, and grantees who identify as people of color as well as any potential power dynamics between us as a funder and our grantees.
We were fortunate to have high participation rate in the survey, and we are thankful to those who made time to provide this valuable input. We understand that perception survey response data is influenced by many variables—such as knowledge of systems, the nature and context of individual interactions, and other factors—and that there are limitations to the number of respondents who can participate equitably. So, while there is a limit to how much we can use perception data as indicators of truth, we do view it as an important and valuable supplement to our ongoing interactions with grantees as well as our monitoring and evaluation processes.
We share this summary of our recent survey in the spirit of transparency but also in the spirit of commitment and partnership. As a foundation, we are intentional about maximizing our self-awareness so that we can do better whenever improvement is within reach. We view candid feedback as extremely valuable, and we welcome it from our stakeholders not only through periodic surveys, but also as we work together day-by-day. We are appreciative of the positive feedback we have obtained and are eager to improve in areas where the data suggest we have an opportunity to do so.Learn more about the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Grantee Perception Report.