Feedback Loops and Openness: A Snapshot of the Field Baseline Report

Feedback Loops and Openness: A snapshot of the Field

ORS Impact conducted a baseline assessment to set a bar against which to measure progress over time, as well as to inform near-term decisions based on a deeper understanding of the field’s current state. They explored the current state of philanthropic and nonprofit practice related to feedback loops, as well as foundation openness practices through key informant interviews, a media analysis, reviews of foundations’ and sector-serving organizations’ websites, and use of existing secondary data sources. This media analysis covers the timeframe from July 2013 to June 2014 – the twelve month period prior to the launch of Fund for Shared Insight.

Key findings

  • Foundations understand conceptually what beneficiary feedback loops mean, but few have strong internal practices for intentionally collecting and putting to use feedback that comes from “the people they seek to help”
  • The three most common barriers to implementing feedback loops into foundation practice are organizational capacity, organizational culture and technical challenges
  • Prior to the launch of Shared Insight, ORS Impact found some instances of feedback-focused content in a broad based review of sector-related blogs, reports and publications but definite room for more voices discussing this work
  • The two most common barriers to foundation openness are organizational culture, including a fear of sharing failures, followed by time and resources


As a funder group, we reflected together on these findings and agreed that while the baseline report indicates that nonprofits and foundations seem to be talking about feedback loops, there isn’t a widespread understanding of how to do it well, how to integrate it into practice, and how to take action based on the feedback. We suspect there is an overstatement of the extent to which foundations actually listen to feedback and share openly – but we believe the upside is that there is good intent and a willingness to do more in these areas.

Our conclusion thus far, is that there is an opportunity for Shared Insight to develop better tools and resources/frameworks for nonprofits and to demonstrate the value of feedback loops and openness to nonprofits and even more so to foundation audiences. We believe more depth of discourse about feedback loops and openness is needed and it is possible that our future funding to increase foundation openness will be more oriented toward listening and action.

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