Feedback Powers Trust: Learnings from the Grantee Perception Report

Why Grantee Feedback is so Important 

The Libra Foundation is guided by a trust-based approach that centers relationships, shares power, removes barriers, and eliminates unnecessary requirements. We can learn if we are meeting these aims by receiving and reflecting on honest grantee feedback.

In 2021, we turned to the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) Grantee Perception Report (GPR) to help us with this task. We sought feedback from 171 grantee organizations and received 105 responses, attaining a 61% response rate. The results are compared to Libra’s 2018 findings, as well as results from other foundations in the CEP dataset. To read the full report, click here.

Here’s what we heard, and the ways we plan to remain accountable to this feedback.

 What We Learned 

Grantees told us that Libra has had a positive impact on their organization and field. Based on open-ended comments shared by grantees, Libra’s general operating support has been instrumental for building and facilitating grassroots leadership. The board’s decision to push greater decision making to staff in our grantmaking process has expedited resourcing grantees, which have allowed grantees to “directly influence the landscape.” As one grantee put it, “the support from the foundation has allowed us to lead and power the movement and has been critical and influential…which translates to influence in the field and community.” Our findings were much lower for local community impact, which may be attributed to our focus on aspects of movement ecosystems that are less localized, such as network infrastructure and movement sustainability.

The survey results confirmed we are deepening our relationships. Relationships are at the heart of social movements and are guided by honest dialogues. A key marker of trust is feeling comfortable talking about difficult situations. In philanthropy, this can be particularly challenging given the unequal power dynamics. The GPR results showed trust-based relationship building is one of Libra’s core strengths. Grantees said they felt comfortable reaching out when an issue arises and that Libra staff is aware of the challenges their organizations face. They also noted Libra staff exhibit high levels of transparency, openness to ideas about program strategy, compassion, and trust. For example, one grantee shared: “[our program officer] is so well connected in this space and really understands our ecosystem. [They are] willing to take risks on new ideas and fosters an honest, trust-based relationship with me and our team.” While another voiced that there is “care and collaboration” from the Libra team. Grantees also reported feeling no pressure to change their organizations’ priorities to receive funding.

Grantees praised Libra’s renewal and reporting process, and told us that the lack of bureaucracy allowed them to focus on their work. The Libra Foundation has come a long way. In 2018, the Foundation’s grantmaking processes were typical: lengthy applications comprised of questions that could be answered by visiting the grantee’s website or public platforms, such as Guidestar. Since then, with the support of the board, Libra staff has worked to eliminate these onerous requirements. For example, instead of written reports, program officers periodically connect with grantees through phone calls. These calls also allow the opportunity for program officers to provide an update on the foundation’s activities, so there is reciprocal sharing. According to a grantee partner, this process “lends itself to a much richer conversation about the work and feels more collaborative and like a partnership.” Speaking to our process, a grantee expressed:“Libra’s process is straightforward and non-bureaucratic. They seem to focus on getting the funds to us rather than focusing on applications and reporting” which therefore, “allows us as a smaller grassroots organization to focus on the work we are doing rather than the grant process.”

While we are encouraged by this positive feedback, grantees also told us about areas in which we can improve.

For example, grantees voiced wanting more consistent communication from the Libra Foundation and more touchpoints with program officers. Although survey results showed improved ratings for how Libra communicates its goals and strategies, grantees still mentioned they were unfamiliar with Libra’s work and impact. We received feedback that described Libra’s communication as clear and responsive, yet other comments asked for more touchpoints. This tension is best stated by one respondent who said, “We appreciate that there are not a lot of demands for communication from the funder. But we also want to have relationships with our funders and leverage their knowledge to grow relationships in philanthropy. I say this knowing that we are all pressed for time and are still in a pandemic.” 

Grantees voiced appreciation for our two-year funding, but challenged us to go further.  Besides the GPR, Libra Foundation gathers anonymous feedback after each cycle through a short, online survey and we have heard a consistent request: extend grant terms beyond two-year commitments. This feedback was echoed again by a grantee who shared the following: “One of the greatest things about Libra is that you understand the importance of unrestricted, multi-year funding. We’d love to see you take this even further, increasing average grant periods to 3-5 years. This is especially important as many nonprofits are still reeling from loss of income and need stability and certainty.

This feedback identified areas of our grantmaking process that we could improve, and solidified the changes we were already beginning to implement. Here’s how we’re addressing these areas for improvement and deepening our commitment.  

How We’re Responding

 To improve communications and increase touchpoints, we’ve expanded our communications team and program officers have implemented office hours.  From the GPR, we learned that Libra program officer portfolios are almost twice the size of portfolios at other foundations in the dataset. We recognize it’s been a challenge to simultaneously provide updates from the Libra Foundation, learn about grantees’ work, and deepen relationships. By implementing office hours, grantees have the opportunity to connect on an ongoing basis if they choose to. With the expansion of our communications team, we have increased capacity to strategize and deliver additional ways to engage our grantee partners. 

We will also be piloting extending grant terms. We know that multi-year funding allows for movement sustainability, flexibility, and financial resilience. We also know that the uncertainty of the pandemic has made it challenging to plan ahead, especially with only two-year commitments. This year, we will be piloting extended multi-year funding grant terms for grantees that most closely align with the strategy of each program area. 

Leading with Trust

The results provided us with clear and useful information to better serve grantees. We aim to create an environment where grantees can set the tone of their engagement with the Libra Foundation. The engagement can range from a close collaboration where Libra connects grantees to other funders or movement leaders, resources, provides references, or serves as spokesperson to uplift their work. If a grantee prefers, receiving funds can be the extent of the engagement. 

That being said, we recognize that the GPR is very long and time consuming. While it is conducted every three years, we know it is a heavy lift for smaller grassroots organizations that already have limited capacity. Many grantees could not participate because of this barrier. We also know that many grantees are filling out multiple surveys from different funders using this tool, among several others. Through the GPR and the time invested in filling out the survey, we heard grantees’ priorities and needs, and how we better meet them.

Appreciations

We are grateful for respondents’ time, expertise, and thoughtfulness. We acknowledge this was yet another request for their time and we are deeply grateful for the appreciation, candor, and reflections. We are listening, and we are committed to being responsive to their needs. It is an honor to fund grantees’ work, as we all bear witness to the heightened attacks on our sacred earth, freedoms, bodily autonomy, and human rights.

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