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For nearly a decade, Fund for Shared Insight has worked to advance its mission — helping funders and nonprofits listen and respond to those most impacted by their decisions, so that people and communities are better off in ways they define for themselves.
As Shared Insight’s managing director, I believe that one of the best decisions we’ve made to date is helping to create, incubate, and now launch Listen4Good, a pioneering feedback capacity-building program, as an independent entity. This transition will best serve Listen4Good, its partners, its participants, the feedback field, and, ultimately, the social sector as a whole. Listen4Good has already helped nearly 800 nonprofits across the country build capacity to listen in equity-centered ways, and it has the potential to help thousands more.
Getting to this point has been an exciting and enlightening evolution.
Some of Shared Insight’s earliest grants supported a small portfolio of direct service nonprofits (including Center for Employment Opportunities, Feeding America, and Habitat for Humanity) as they developed their own systems for gathering feedback, closing the loop with people who gave feedback, and using what they heard from the feedback to make changes and inform decisions.
Those early grants, while super successful, also helped us understand that investing in individual organizations’ proprietary listening systems was not a fully scalable solution for making feedback a norm among nonprofits. In order for feedback to be widely adopted and practiced across the social sector, we needed a simple, scalable, affordable solution to help nonprofits build capacity to implement high-quality feedback loops. And so, in partnership with Valerie Threlfall, who would become its founding director, we created Listen4Good, our signature feedback capacity-building initiative.
“As Listen4Good scales, expanding its scope, offerings, and team (which is 29 strong today), we believe it needs — and deserves — dedicated infrastructure. “
For the first few years, as we were building our own capacity and knowledge about how to make Listen4Good work best, we offered it as a grant program. We invited funders to nominate their direct-service grantees and provide a grant to support their participation, which Shared Insight matched. At the same time, we encouraged those funders to listen and learn alongside their nonprofit partners. And we paid for Listen4Good’s operating costs, including to develop and test design and delivery methods and create a new interactive web application to scale the program’s offerings.
Listen4Good was sharpening its focus on equity all the while. The Listen4Good team created a step-by-step competency rubric to provide organizations with a roadmap for implementing the highest quality feedback systems possible, and then updated that framework to be explicit about how feedback relates to equity and the specific practices that ensure that feedback shifts and shares power.
In 2020, with an online app full of self-guided resources, including a customizable survey tool (powered by the company SurveyMonkey) and access to a coaching team, Listen4Good introduced a new fee-for-service model. For a modest fee, paid by participating nonprofits or sponsoring funders, Listen4Good’s feedback tools, resources, and coaching were open for the first time to all nonprofits, not just those in Shared Insight’s grant program.
This was a huge step, and, as was the case during the other stages of Listen4Good’s development, it exceeded our (very high!) expectations. Even as the matching grant program phased out, interest remained strong. Despite launching the new business model in the particularly challenging year of 2020, funders were eager to pay for nonprofits to participate and organizations signed up at higher levels than before. In addition, past participants started to come back, re-enrolling for refresher courses or expanding their Listen4Good survey work into additional departments or programs. Since 2020, the number of Listen4Good participants has grown by more than 60 percent year over year.
Philanthropy has certainly taken notice. Since the start of the program, more than 125 funders have joined us to provide matching grants and many previous and new funding partners continue to sponsor grantees. Some of these partners have also joined with Shared Insight’s core funders, which include some of the nation’s biggest foundations, and others to provide working capital to help Listen4Good spin out as an independent organization. And we believe that MacKenzie Scott’s 2021 gift to Shared Insight, when the donor wrote she was supporting groups that were “empowering voices the world needs to hear,” was prompted by our Listen4Good work.
Fund for Shared Insight was established as a time-limited initiative, so we do not plan to be a permanent part of the nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure. But we firmly believe Listen4Good should be. Listen4Good has measurable positive impact, including evidence that it leads to programmatic changes informed by client perspectives, and promotes equity in the sector. And as Listen4Good scales, expanding its scope, offerings, and team (which is 29 strong today), we believe it needs — and deserves — dedicated infrastructure. For those reasons and many others, Listen4Good is now moving forward as a freestanding initiative as a fiscally sponsored project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
This is a bittersweet transition. Since 2015 we’ve worked side-by-side with the Listen4Good team. We’ve proudly described Listen4Good as Shared Insight’s signature initiative, and have devoted much of our overall work and resources as a funder collaborative to helping it thrive. Those efforts have paid off, and Listen4Good now has the capacity and momentum it needs for even broader impact.
We will, of course, continue to work in close partnership, and the work is not done. We are in the final stages of raising startup capital to ensure that Listen4Good has a successful path to sustainability, and we still need funders to support that campaign. We will also continue to use our platform to champion Listen4Good and its groundbreaking work, encouraging funders to sponsor grantees to participate in Listen4Good and to support feedback capacity-building efforts more generally.
We appreciate and celebrate the support and partnership of the many funders and nonprofits that have helped Listen4Good reach this milestone. And we congratulate the amazing team that skillfully navigated Listen4Good toward this point. Now, we look forward to watching Listen4Good as it keeps on growing, improving, and spreading its equity-centered brand of high-quality listening across the social sector.
About the author: Melinda Tuan is managing director of Fund for Shared Insight.