Funder Listening Action Menu

See what funders around the country are doing to listen well in order to shift and share power with the people and communities at the heart of their work.

Dozens of real-life examples highlight practices and policies that value lived expertise, improve grantmaking, and advance equity.

Get inspired by this collection of insights and ideas to spark the changes you want to see.

Introduction

Foundations and nonprofits can do more good in the world and have a greater impact when they regularly and deeply listen to the people and communities most affected by their decisions. Over time, as the listening and feedback field has grown more robust, the question we field most frequently has shifted from “Why does listening matter?” to “We recognize the importance of listening, but how do we do it well?”

We created this menu to help answer that question. It features a variety of ways funders are listening across the many dimensions of their work, and is designed to help you think broadly and systematically about how to listen, respond, and shift power. We’ve drawn examples from a range of sources, including our own partner funders, media reports, and philanthropy-support organizations participating in our Funder Listening Community of Practice. Many are also drawn from the report “Bridging the Gap: A Review of Foundation Listening Practices” by the consulting firm Ekouté.

Listening, like most things, can be done poorly or well. Shared Insight believes that listening well means:

  • Listening with a willingness to change in response to what you hear.
  • Listening to a broad range of voices, with specific attention to people and communities not typically consulted by philanthropy and nonprofits.
  • Committing to an ongoing process, not a one-time activity, that includes closing the loop by reporting back on what you hear and how you plan to respond.
  • Engaging with people and communities as partners throughout the listening process from framing initial feedback questions to making meaning from what is heard to determining how to respond and change.

As you review the examples in this menu, consider how your funding practices, operations, policies, and values either support or create barriers to listening well. And then take the learnings and inspiration offered here to make the changes you want to see.

The menu is a living document and we are always looking for new examples of funders listening well, so please contact us if you have suggestions or would like to be included.

1. Support grantees to listen well

2. Use listening and feedback to inform grantmaking

3. Use listening and feedback to inform strategy development

4. Use listening and feedback to inform measurement, learning, and evaluation

5. Use listening to learn directly from people and communities

6. Listen through participatory practices

7. Listen by changing the composition of staffs and boards

1. Support grantees to listen well

Funders can support grantee efforts – and explore how listening can inform their own grantmaking work – by sponsoring nonprofits to participate in Listen4Good, a feedback capacity-building program, or make other capacity-building grants. 

Funders can also promote and support listening by signaling to grantees that meaningfully engaging with impacted people and communities is an expected standard. Make sure you are working with grantees around this issue in the spirit of partnership and with serious intentions to also use what you learn to change your own practices.

On the grant application, ask grantees how they collect and use client feedback
A sample of questions:
Include questions in your site visits about how the nonprofit listens to people and communities
Make capacity-building grants to improve nonprofit feedback practice
Collaborate with other funders to learn about listening and feedback

2. Use listening and feedback to inform grantmaking

When funders think about listening, they often focus on feedback from grantees about their performance and relationship. While grantee feedback is a critical practice to help funders improve, you can and should use insights gained through grantees’ listening efforts, as well as your own direct listening, to make better informed and more equitable grantmaking decisions.

3. Use listening and feedback to inform strategy development

Strategic planning and priority setting are important inflection points when listening to the people and communities most impacted by your decisions is especially critical.

4. Use listening and feedback to inform measurement, learning, and evaluation

There are many ways of knowing. Listening and feedback practices produce knowledge that is just as valid as data from other monitoring and evaluation activities, and should be a critical component of your approach to measurement, learning, and evaluation.

5. Use listening to learn directly from people and communities

Beyond listening specifically to support grant decisions, strategy development, or measurement, embracing listening as a value and a standard will inform all aspects of your work, building trust and true partnerships.

6. Listen through participatory practices

Listening is a foundational component of participatory philanthropy, which encompasses a range of practices intended to involve the people and communities most affected by your decisions in decision-making processes. Along with the examples below, resources — including from GrantCraft, the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and our Participatory Philanthropy Toolkit — can help you on your participatory journey.

7. Listen by changing the composition of staffs and boards

Changes within your organization that bring new voices and perspectives into decision making can advance equity, surface critical knowledge, and shift power. 

Hire employees, interns, and consultants with relevant lived experience
Bring people with relevant lived experience onto your governing board
Bring people with relevant lived experience onto your advisory boards