Listening & Feedback:
A Funder Action Menu

A resource to help foundations think in a systematic way about how they can promote listening and feedback across the many dimensions of their work.

Fund for Shared Insight believes that foundations and nonprofits are more impactful and effective when they regularly and deeply listen to the people and communities who are most affected by the systems and structures philanthropy is seeking to change. Our funder collaborative is committed to the kind of listening and learning that values lived experience and advances equity. And we believe that engaging and partnering with individuals and communities can lead to lasting, meaningful change, improving lives in ways people define for themselves.

We’ve created this menu as a resource to help foundations think systematically about how to promote listening and feedback across the many dimensions of their work. Examples are drawn from inside and outside our network of funders and draw heavily from a report we recommend you read: “Bridging the Gap: A Review of Foundation Listening Practices,” by the consulting firm Ekouté. We also encourage further exploration of resources that advance listening, including our three-step toolkit designed for funder collaboratives.

As you peruse this menu, please consider how your own funding practices, operations, and demonstrated values either support or create barriers to listening. It’s also critical to consider whether you are willing and able to make changes in response to the feedback you gather, improving your own practices in service of equity.

If you are ready to move ahead, here are some ideas:

Funder Action Menu

1. Talk about feedback in the application and reporting process
2. Convene nonprofits and funders to listen and learn together
3. Make capacity-building grants to improve nonprofit feedback practice
4. Use listening and feedback to inform grantmaking
5. Use listening and feedback to inform strategy development
6. Use listening and feedback to inform measurement, learning, and evaluation
7. Employ a variety of tactics to listen directly to people and communities
8. Incorporate listening into other areas of foundation operations

1. Talk about feedback in the application and reporting process

We encourage funders to ask about organizations’ feedback practices because it sends the message that philanthropy cares about feedback and that listening to people and communities is an expectation. We also recognize the power dynamics inherent in relationships between funders and nonprofits, so we encourage you to approach organizations’ responses with understanding. Grantees, for example, may be taken off guard if they perceive a question about feedback as unrelated to the program or project you’re funding. Or they may cite capacity constraints that hinder their feedback collection or ability to make changes in response. Make sure you are asking in the spirit of partnership and with serious intentions to use what you learn to change your own practices

2. Convene nonprofits and funders to listen and learn together

A collaborative effort ourselves, Shared Insight believes that building the culture and practice of feedback in the social sector is a learning journey best done along with our fellow funders, grantees, and the people at the heart of our work. As in any field, sharing information, best practices, benchmarks, and inspiration is a productive way to move forward together.

For grantmakers with smaller budgets and staff, collaboration and convening can be an accessible way to learn more about feedback and listening while also creating opportunities for grantees to learn from each other.

3. Make capacity-building grants to improve nonprofit feedback practice

One of Shared Insight’s core goals is to provide widespread access to tools and resources that increase the capacity among organizations to systematically listen to and respond to their clients. Through our signature feedback initiative, Listen4Good, we have partnered with co-funders to make grants to organizations implementing high-quality feedback loops using our uniquely designed five-step process. We also invite funders to sponsor grantees in two new Listen4Good programs, Listen4Good Online+ and Listen4Good Premium, and encourage them to provide additional capacity-building funds, as needed. 

4. Use listening and feedback to inform grantmaking

When funders think about feedback and listening, they typically focus on gaining insights from their grantees, often about their performance and relationship with the organizations. While this is a critical practice to help funders improve their work, it is only a part of the story. Shared Insight believes that funders can and should use the insights they gain through their grantees’ listening efforts and shared learnings to make better informed, more effective, and more equitable grantmaking decisions.

5. Use listening and feedback to inform strategy development

When funders think about feedback and listening, they typically focus on gaining insights from their grantees, often about their performance and relationship with the organizations. While this is a critical practice to help funders improve their work, it is only a part of the story. Shared Insight believes that funders can and should use the insights they gain through their grantees’ listening efforts and shared learnings to make better informed, more effective, and more equitable strategy-setting decisions.

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

When funders think about feedback and listening, they typically focus on gaining insights from their grantees, often about their performance and relationship with the organizations. While this is a critical practice to help funders improve their work, it is only a part of the story. Shared Insight believes that funders can and should use the insights they gain from listening and feedback to improve — make more effective and equitable — their other measurement, learning, and evaluation efforts.

7. Employ a variety of tactics to listen directly to people and communities

Shared Insight encourages funders to promote and support their grantees’ efforts to collect client feedback and regularly seek those results and learnings. We also see great value in funders themselves listening directly to people and communities, building respectful and inclusive relationships that can shift power and lead to more equitable outcomes. 

8. Incorporate listening into other areas of foundation operations

While much of our work in the feedback field has been focused around grantmaking practices, we recognize the importance of infusing listening throughout foundations. Here are some ways funders are listening in other areas of their work, internally and externally.

Work in progress

Please consider this Funder Action Menu a work in progress. We know there are many more examples of how funders are listening to and learning from people and communities most impacted by their decisions. We’ve included a form on each page to submit ideas. We hope that we’ll hear from you, so we can continue to build this resource and other sources of knowledge and inspiration that move us toward a more inclusive philanthropy rooted in the lived expertise of those at the heart of our work.

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