Philanthropy, business, NGO leaders—and end users of nonprofit services—offer expert advice on how listening to “ultimate constituents” can improve results; more than 200 nonprofits with support from nearly 100 funders commit to growing “feedback” movement

More than 25 leaders from fields as diverse as criminal justice, public health, philanthropy, and technology will participate in a new editorial series launched today by Stanford Social Innovation Review that aims to bridge theory and practice on an important innovation in the social sector: the practice of more systematically collecting and using feedback from the people that social sector organizations seek to serve. The series comes on the heels of a study that examined one major sector initiative and found that eight out of 10 nonprofits that implemented efforts to collect feedback went on to make changes to better serve clients.

The SSIR series The Power of Feedback, which is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, will feature philanthropy leaders such as Fred Blackwell of The San Francisco Foundation, Pamela Norley of Fidelity Charitable and Kathy Reich of the Ford Foundation; nonprofit leaders such as Frank Daidone from the Nurse Family Partnership; sector experts such as the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Phil Buchanan and Listen for Good’s Valerie Threlfall; corporate leaders such as SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie; and clients of services related to housing, employment, and more.

“Sharing the latest strategies and best practices in social change with social sector leaders is at the heart of the work we do at SSIR,” said SSIR publisher Michael Gordon Voss. “This series represents the most comprehensive public discussion around the idea of constituent feedback for the nonprofit sector published to date. Leveraging the full array of our narrative tools—long-form articles, video, podcasts, and webinars—we will bring to our audience both the unique insights of nonprofit and foundation leaders, as well as the moving, personal experiences of individuals who participated in feedback programs.” SSIR is working with Milway Media on production of the series.

“Getting and using feedback from the people we seek to serve needs to become the new normal in the social sector. Funders and nonprofits alike can benefit from the valuable perspective of beneficiaries of charitable efforts—often the voices least heard in these conversations,” said Hewlett Foundation president Larry Kramer, whose article Feedback Is Not a Fad launches the campaign. “Listening to beneficiaries should be part and parcel of any initiative that seeks to help others.”

An award-winning magazine and website that covers cross-sector solutions to global problems, SSIR is written by and for social change leaders from around the world and from all sectors of society—nonprofits, foundations, business, government, and engaged citizens. Funding support for the series comes from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group, which seeks to strengthen the capacity of the foundation’s grantees and philanthropy in general, to achieve their goals and benefit the common good.

“Systematically collecting and using the views of the people we seek to help is right, smart and—more than ever—feasible,” EPG director Fay Twersky said. “We hope this new series will help catalyze a community of practitioners and increase the sharing of ideas and tools to make it easier for nonprofits and donors to implement high-quality feedback loops.”

The new series, which will run through February 2019, will feature commentary, webinars, and multimedia content with the latest research, practical insights, and tools and tactics from field leaders about their experiences in trying to more rigorously seek and use feedback from beneficiaries. SSIR plans to invite a conversation with readers via social media with the hashtag #FeedbackEmpowers.

Listening to beneficiaries—the end users and clients of direct services provided by nonprofit organizations and supported by charitable donors—has been rated as one of the most promising practices for improving the impact of social change organizations, and more donors and nonprofits are adopting the approach.

Through Listen for Good, the signature initiative of the donor collaborative Fund for Shared Insight, funders and nonprofits work together to build high-quality feedback loops with nonprofit clients. More than 200 nonprofits have received Listen for Good grants, totaling more than $9.4 million since 2016 and elevating the voices of more than 90,000 nonprofit clients nationwide. As of last week, when the latest round of Listen for Good grants were announced, the total number of funders involved with the collaborative effort is nearly 100.

An evaluation of the initiative’s effectiveness finds that nearly eight out of 10 organizations that participated are translating insights from the feedback collected into changes to better serve clients. Among those:

  • 63 percent are making changes to program offerings
  • 45 percent are making changes to operations
  • 37 percent are making changes to staff-client interactions; and
  • 31 percent are offering new services.

In addition, the analysis suggests that the implementation of high-quality feedback loops can also advance organizations’ equity, diversity, and inclusion work by providing clients a seat at the table at various stages of the decision making process and allowing them to shape the services that benefit their communities.