NPF TIG Week: Foundations Can (and Should) Learn from Grantees by Cheryl Milloy

I’m Cheryl Milloy, Associate Director of Evaluation at Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle. We believe no family should live in poverty and that those who experience poverty know best what the solutions are. We provide consistent, significant, long-term general operating support grants to community-based organizations to work together across issues, regions, race and ethnicity, and egos to bring about long-term change that has a positive impact on the lives of families.

Foundations strive to be learning organizations, and one of their best sources of learning is the organizations they support.

Hot Tip: Ask. Listen. Act.”  This is our brand promise and our approach to learning. Grantees are our partners on the ground and we are committed to asking them and listening to them in order to learn before we act. We cannot completely eliminate the power imbalance between funder and grantee, but we can be conscious of it and mitigate this differential as much as possible. One important way Marguerite Casey Foundation does this is by providing grants almost exclusively as multiyear general operating support. This demonstrates trust in organizations and their “big ideas” and allows them to decide how to spend the funds. We encourage organizations to invest in their own infrastructure – leadership, staff, governance, evaluation and learning, technology, etc. – to build their capacity and effectiveness.

Hot Tip: Learn by asking grantees for their feedback! Any evaluation of a funder’s work should include feedback from grantees. For Marguerite Casey Foundation’s 15th anniversary, we commissioned a summative evaluation to understand stakeholders’ perceptions of our operations to facilitate learning going forward. An article summarizing the evaluation findings and our initial responses was recently published in The Foundation Review (A Rad Resource for nonprofit and foundation evaluators!). We learned that while we had achieved substantial progress, we could further strengthen our relationships with grantees and clarify our messages to them.

Rad Resource: The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report® (GPR).  Again, there is much foundations can learn from grantees – what funders are doing really well that has a positive impact on organizations as well as areas in which they need to improve.  The GPR is a tested survey that asks grantees to give confidential feedback and suggestions. It also gives funders helpful comparative data so they can make assessments relative to the field and customized cohorts of other foundations. We commissioned a GPR earlier this year. Our grantees took the time to respond and include thoughtful comments, and we intend to incorporate their recommendations into our work.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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