Foundation Joins with Grantees to Listen to ‘What the Community Really Needs’
When The Wright Center for Community Health, a nonprofit provider of safety-net healthcare, began offering primary care and dental services within a Scranton, Pa., middle school, the Moses Taylor Foundation, also located in Scranton, was interested and listening.
The clinic was initially accessible only to students, yet comments and feedback indicated that an expansion to welcome all community members into a convenient location at a public school might just make sense.
As the foundation learned more about school-based health centers and the proven impact on communities, an idea was born. A grant award and renovation of an empty space within a different local middle school shortly followed. And the newly established and open-to-the-public health clinic served as an ideal setting to introduce a formal feedback initiative — Listen4Good.
By surveying patients through Listen4Good, the Wright Center’s team learned how to best serve students, school staff, and its new patient population. And leaders at the Moses Taylor Foundation, which co-funded the center’s Listen4Good participation, welcomed the insights to shape its strategy for supporting school-based healthcare delivery throughout the foundation’s broader 11-county service area.
“We were watching to get a good understanding of community needs and determine how to meet those needs so we can tie our work directly to that,” says Jeff Smith, the foundation’s senior program officer.
Expanding Opportunities for Listening
The Moses Taylor Foundation’s experience with Listen4Good and with other local nonprofits led to other changes, too. The foundation added two questions to its grant application: How do you solicit feedback from your participants? and Do you have a system in place to make changes to your program(s) based on the feedback received? Foundation staff also started using those questions as conversation starters on site visits.
On one visit to Scranton Counseling Center — a community-based mental-health provider that had received a capital grant from the Moses Taylor Foundation — Smith encouraged the organization to consider feedback received from clients while planning its facility renovation. He says the center’s “thoughtful approach” led to plans to add a more private second entrance to the facility.
“They had heard from clients that when you’re arriving by ambulance for a psych evaluation, you don’t want to feel like you’re on parade,” Smith says. “Our questions on the application opened up the discussion about how they were being responsive to that kind of feedback.” The adjustment in the physical layout was a clear indicator that feedback had been received — and acted on — to deliver a better patient experience.
To encourage colleagues to support such feedback efforts — and capacity-building more generally — the Moses Taylor Foundation invited five other Northeastern Pennsylvania grantmakers to form the NEPA Funders Collaborative. The group pools resources to support local grantees’ Listen4Good participation and meets quarterly with the nonprofits to share learnings, inspiration, and technical support. Last year, when many programs went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding effective ways to increase the number of survey respondents became a hot topic.
“They talked about the apps and providers they were using to do text-message surveys,” Smith says. “We’re able to bounce ideas off of each other, whether it’s about technical or strategic things or bigger ideas or ways to partner more effectively.”
Another perk of the NEPA Funders Collaborative: members contributed a small pot of money to pay for changes nonprofits want to make in direct response to feedback. Smith says those funds can pay for minor improvements here and there, like new chairs in a waiting room or printing signage in other languages, and have already sparked conversations about how funders might be interested in providing additional support for larger projects.
“If we are all talking about the feedback together and trying to meet the needs we are hearing about together, that can make a real difference,” Smith says.
Cultivating Stronger Connections and Open Conversations
An additional way the Moses Taylor Foundation is working to listen is through its “Coffee and Conversations” initiative. Smith wanted to break down barriers between the foundation and grant applicants, so he began making himself more personally available between grant-funding cycles. Through an email campaign offering grantees a spot on his calendar, Smith was able to generate open, informal means of identifying funding opportunities and better understanding community needs through the lens of nonprofit partners.
In its first month alone, Smith took more than 30 meetings. “Being able to listen and connect with nonprofit leaders outside of the formal site meeting and grant application was eye opening,” Smith says. “We want them to know the foundation is here as a resource and a partner. And we want to listen and learn all we can about what the community really needs, not just what we think it needs.”