Shaping Our Strategy with Grantee and Applicant Feedback

Posted on May 8, 2017 | Hanh Le, Weissberg Foundation

Last summer, the Weissberg Foundation kicked off a year-long strategic planning process to chart a course for our work over the next several years. I’ll preview the plan’s direction in an upcoming piece, and later this summer we’ll roll out the full plan. In the meantime, I wanted to share the invaluable feedback we gathered from our grantees and applicants that’s informing our strategy and how we’ll implement it.

The Grantee and Applicant Perception Survey

In embarking on our strategic planning, the foundation knew a key component of the work needed to be listening to our grantee partners and other nonprofits with whom we have engaged. It can be difficult and onerous for nonprofits to share honest feedback with a funder, so we chose to use Exponent Philanthropy’s Grantee and Applicant & Perception Survey (GAPS). The GAPS includes several scaled and open-ended questions designed to assess a foundation’s grantmaking process, program strategy, and operations.

In October 2016, we invited 54 past and current grantees and applicants to complete the anonymous survey, and are incredibly appreciative that 33 did. The survey responses went to Exponent Philanthropy, who compiled them, analyzed the results, and developed a report that identified our strengths, where we need to improve, and several recommended next steps.

Areas of Strength

We were gratified to see strong agreement among respondents that they believe the foundation is responsive, professional, and helpful; sets reasonable expectations throughout a grant cycle; has strong, positive relationships and collaborations with grantees; and has a positive impact in communities we seek to serve. When asked what we do well, many cited listening, being supportive, and making ourselves accessible, as well as being knowledgeable, well-connected and a good collaborator.

Areas for Improvement

Respondents identified several areas the foundation should focus attention and work toward improvements. These include clarifying communication of mission, goals, and program areas; transparency, consistency, and a streamlined grant solicitation process; overall better communication, especially on our website; and increasing support of general operations, multi-year grants, and grantee convenings.

Grantees and applicants suggested specific ways the foundation could better support different forms of collaborations, including sharing our approach and lessons learned with other funders, working even more closely with grantees, continuing to solicit ideas from and listen to grantees, and convening grantees.

Next Steps

Given the feedback from our grantees and applicants and knowledge about the foundation, Exponent Philanthropy suggested several next steps, many of which are already underway as part of our strategic planning work.

More immediate next steps:

  • Clarify points of contact at the foundation for different parts of our work
  • Add more content to our blog, including outcomes of the GAPS, updates on our Diversity in Theater grantee convenings, and lessons learned from grantmaker collaborations in which we’re involved.

Next steps to integrate into our strategic framework and implementation plan:

  • Clarify vision, mission, goals and strategies
  • Consider strategic ways to increase general operating, multi-year, capacity building grants, and support community engagement and storytelling.
  • Research other foundation websites to inform our redesign into a useful communications resource
  • Integrate more of our grantmaking processes into Foundant, our online platform
  • Create and share information about the experience of our strategic planning process and its outcomes
  • Develop a broader communications strategy and plan

All of these are very feasible activities that we agree will go a long way to strengthening our work, particularly how we engage with grantees and applicants. We look forward to operationalizing the feedback that we gathered, as well as continuing to maintain open lines of communication with our grantee and community partners.

More soon. In the meantime, please reach out to me if you have any questions, ideas, or musings to share!

Hanh Le is the executive director of the Weissberg Foundation, where she oversees strategy development, stakeholder engagement, grantmaking, and operations. Prior to joining the foundation, she was the chief program officer at Exponent Philanthropy, where she led educational programming, content development, and internal learning efforts. Hanh has directed training, grant, and technical assistance programs for KaBOOM!, Community Technology Centers’ Network, and the Peace Corps.

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