Grantee Perceptions: Feedback we received from grant recipients, and how we’re responding
We take the results of these Grantee Perception Reports seriously. Indeed, many of the practices that were highly rated in this year’s survey are the result of the actions we took in response to feedback from past surveys. Under the topline findings for the foundation as a whole lies variance by program and strategy. Foundation staff mine these data for areas of vulnerability and ideas for concrete improvements. Each team conducts its own examination, meeting with CEP staff for additional insight, and then the senior staff who manage and support grantmaking come together to share ideas, lessons learned, and proposals for improvements. Here are some of the ways we’re responding to the latest round of feedback:
We’re committed to seeking new opportunities to reconnect with grantees and communicate about our strategies, especially in one-on-one and in-person settings. The survey shows that while grantees were aware of broad foundation-level actions — related to the pandemic and racial justice, for example — there was a lot of variance in their awareness and understanding of actions in our individual programs and strategies. Even more striking, there is enormous pent-up demand among grantees for meaningful interaction with their program partners — for individual, interpersonal communication between program staff and grantee.
With the availability of vaccines, and broad lifting of travel restrictions, our program staff are increasing their in-person meetings with grantees. This is particularly important in programs where grantmaking strategies have recently been or are being revised. Program staff in our Gender Equity & Governance Program, for example, who recently refreshed our approach to Transparency, Participation, and Accountability, are hosting in-person grantee meetings and workshops in Mexico, Ghana, Senegal, and Kenya. In past years, our Education Program has relied on in-person grantee convenings to build community and understanding across its network; they expect to resume convening, possibly in smaller groups, as a means of connecting grantees with each other and with the foundation. And we expect more of this kind of activity in all our programs.
We’re committed to continuing effective practices and ensuring smooth transitions. We want to maintain the tried-and-true practices that drive positive grantee feedback across a host of measures, from supporting the advancement of knowledge to providing flexible funding and ensuring that project funding covers true costs. We will look to build on these where we can. High ratings in the current survey are tied to the streamlined application processes and reporting requirements that grantees experienced — and we’ve identified ways we can still do more. Our Performing Arts Program, for example, developed a new, abridged grant application after the onset of the pandemic that it will continue to use, where possible, moving forward. Meanwhile, in recognition of the challenges and uncertainty experienced by grantees due to program staff transitions, a taskforce co-chaired by Hewlett’s head of human resources and one of us (Jehan), as head of our Effective Philanthropy Group, is developing and elevating foundation-wide best practices to ensure that such transitions happen more smoothly. Some specific practices already being deployed in individual programs include developing a transition plan, at the level of grant portfolio, ahead of a program staffer’s term end that includes proactive communication with all grantees and identifies a specific, alternate foundation contact, who is not term-limited, to act as a liaison before the transition occurs.
We’re committed to improving our practices and sharing more about our approach to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Just as CEP began administering the survey, the foundation was building out a team led by a newly named chief of equity and culture, Charmaine Mercer, to help us make good on our commitments to combating systemic racism. In the coming year, Charmaine and her team will be supporting the rest of the foundation as we consider how best to continue addressing matters of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion with our people and partners and in our policies and practices. Our programs are all evolving in different ways, depending on their circumstances and work. Our Gender Equity & Governance program, for example, plans to amend its proposal application and reporting process with an eye on furthering Hewlett’s ambition to provide more grants and funding to organizations with headquarters in the Global South. The Effective Philanthropy Group, which makes grants to strengthen the philanthropy sector, will be incorporating questions related to DEI and racial equity into its process as it refreshes its grantmaking strategy related to Knowledge for Better Philanthropy. Every program is making changes as we learn and adapt. Grantees in different programs express varying levels of awareness about these commitments, so we will seek to more consistently convey this information in our materials, program-wide communications, and interactions with individual grantees.
Above all, we remain committed to continuous improvement. Indeed, the very practice of asking for, sharing, and responding to feedback is itself tied to a core guiding principle — our commitment to transparency, openness, and learning. This makes us a better institution. So keep the feedback coming; we really are listening.