Listening & Feedback:
A Funder Action Menu
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.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation considers itself an experienced donor in the field of family planning, yet when its Gender Equity and Governance Program was refreshing its strategic plan, the foundation turned to design thinking, a way of problem solving by deciphering what people really want through watching and listening. Hewlett brokered a partnership between IDEO.org and Marie Stopes International to engage adolescent girls in Zambia in project design. The result was a new approach that better connected with teenagers around issues of reproductive health.
Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo undergoes a strategic refresh every five years, conducting a listening tour in order to re-examine its community goals. In one such effort, the foundation worked with community-based partners to engage community leaders, nonprofits, and residents through interviews, focus groups, and surveys. One result: instead of continuing with plans to invest in transportation and childcare, the foundation pivoted to focusing on systems change within education and workforce training programs to address the root causes of the challenges residents from low-income households said they were facing.1
The Rockefeller Foundation collects feedback data through the Lean Data approach of 60 Decibels from clients served by grantees in two program areas. In one instance, in Africa, the foundation deployed a micro-survey (using Interactive Voice Response) to hear directly from farmers, instead of relying only on self-reported data from grantees. After the survey found that farmers were not actually receiving services, Rockefeller was able to quickly intervene, changing its partnership strategy to address the issue.2
Rather than defining its grantmaking by issue areas or developing its own initiatives, the Perrin Family Foundation focuses on supporting youth organizing. This approach gives community groups and young people the power to define their own priorities, focus, and strategies, creating opportunity and space for youth-led social change.
1Valerie Threlfall and Rebecca Klein. Bridging the Gap: A Review of Foundation Listening Practices. October 2019. Pg. 29
2Ibid. Pg. 31
We’d love to feature your foundation’s feedback and listening practices in this menu! Please use this form to share your story.
1. Talk about feedback in the application and reporting processes
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