Grant Partner Survey Results & Key Takeaways

We’re all ears!

We’re all ears!

As part of our commitment to learning from our grant partners and continuing to grow and adapt as an organization, we recently distributed a survey to all of our past grant partners asking for feedback about our process and approach. Twenty-five partners responded, completely anonymously, and in the interest of full transparency, we’re capturing the response summaries below and sharing them here. In addition to responses, we’ve highlighted throughout where we have concrete plans to make changes, and where we acknowledge we need to make such plans (but have yet to finalize anything). 

We always love hearing from past, current, and prospective grant partners, so if you have any additions to this summary or are interested in providing us with more feedback, please don’t hesitate to reach out!


Respondents

Of the twenty-five respondents, roughly half (13) had received funding in amounts over $5,000. 10 organizations had received leadership development grants (capped at $1,500 per application) and another 5 had received grants in amounts up to $5,000. These numbers do not total 25 because some organizations may have received more than one type of grant.

 

We used this breakdown specifically because we have different grants processes for grants up to $5000 (these do not require an LOI, and have a much shorter application form); leadership development grants; and grants in amounts over $5,000.


Letters of Inquiry (LOIs)

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which read (in order):   Submitting an LOI prior to a full grant application is beneficial and lightens my grantseeking workload.    It was clear what you were looking for in the LOI    The timeline between the LOI submission and invitation to submit a full proposal was appropriate (usually 4-6 weeks).

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which read (in order):

Submitting an LOI prior to a full grant application is beneficial and lightens my grantseeking workload.

It was clear what you were looking for in the LOI

The timeline between the LOI submission and invitation to submit a full proposal was appropriate (usually 4-6 weeks).

Additional thoughts, comments and feedback received on the LOI step of our process:

Having submitted an LOI for Serini previously, I strongly believed that we were a good fit for funding. What was frustrating was the lack of communication in those years. This year, it was a much more transparent and comprehensible process.
I like the LOI as a qualifying step. It’s a brief overview that should show proof of concept without the burden of a full proposal.
The LOI process was helpful because it allows pre-screening of what we would like to submit without workload of compiling a full-proposal.
I LOVE having an LOI!

What we learned about our LOIs, and what we plan to do about it:

Most respondents to this survey—as well as those we’ve spoken to anecdotally—seem to like having an LOI step prior to submitting a full proposal, so we plan to keep this in place as-is. While we understand our communications about priorities and funding decisions was limited in years past, we will be updating our website and email messaging to better outline 2019 priorities ahead of time this year, and are committed to providing feedback to organizations whose requests for funding are declined (at the LOI or application level) in the future.


Applications

What did you think of the application form?

21 of 25 respondents selected: “It was great! Not too long, not too short.”

We received a small number of mixed comments about character counts – 2 said they hate character counts of all varieties, while 2 said that really long character counts make them worry that short answers are too short and 1 said that they had to cut their responses to meet our too-short character counts.

Only one person requested a budget template to upload their budget into; we may offer this in the future as an optional downloadable template, but will continue to allow grant applicants to submit budgets in whatever template works best for their purposes.

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):   I liked being able to pre-populate my answers and was then able to edit them to customize for this specific grant request.    I didn't realize the GuideStar fields were editable after import.    I have no idea what you're talking about.

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):

I liked being able to pre-populate my answers and was then able to edit them to customize for this specific grant request.

I didn't realize the GuideStar fields were editable after import.

I have no idea what you're talking about.

Additional thoughts, comments, and feedback received related to the Guidestar for Grant Applications option:

GuideStar is useful in places and increasingly relevant. That said, I used to dislike their model, as it seemed extortionate to hold out a gold star for a non-profit that didn’t opt into their program (for a fee). So I am wary of over-reliance on them, though I think they have gotten better and as an aggregator of publicly available data, I have no issue with them.
I knew it was an option but did not use it.
As the Executive Director, I was aware of the information that was submitted because I discussed it with our development staff. I did not, however, actually fill out the application. I do know that being able to pre-populate is helpful.
I think this wasn’t available when we applied but I like it!

What we learned about our application process, and what we plan to do about it:

While answers here were a bit all over the place, we clearly need to do more to clarify what Guidestar for Grant Applications is, how it can be used, and why we believe it’s beneficial in the grants process. We’ll be working on a blog post explaining the tool and why we’ve implemented it, which will be shared in our Q1 2019 e-newsletter to maximize reach. Additionally, we will provide links to additional instructions around G4G fields and how they can be used within each grant application in our online portal. These instructions will specifically clarify that a) G4G fields are entirely optional and b) that imported answers can be edited after import.


Reporting

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):   I wish there were more touchpoints before the final report was due. (2)    It was very clear when reports were due. (11)    I appreciate the automated reminders 14 days before a report due date and 3 days after the due date has passed. (13)    I would have preferred a phone call and/or in-person meeting in lieu of written reporting. (3)    I would like the option of uploading a report completed for another funder instead of writing a new one for you. (2)

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):

I wish there were more touchpoints before the final report was due. (2)

It was very clear when reports were due. (11)

I appreciate the automated reminders 14 days before a report due date and 3 days after the due date has passed. (13)

I would have preferred a phone call and/or in-person meeting in lieu of written reporting. (3)

I would like the option of uploading a report completed for another funder instead of writing a new one for you. (2)

Additional thoughts, comments, and feedback received related to our reporting process:

The Helen J. Serini Foundation has the easiest process of all foundations I’ve submitted a proposal to. You are also the most attentive and considerate foundation I work with. I think these two things are related!
I checked the other report option if it is appropriate for the grant, but you actually allowed us to do this.

What we learned about our reporting process, and what we plan to do about it:

 

We had 2 recipients who were unclear when reports were due. In response to this, we will refine and clarify communications sent at the time of the grant award to more clearly outline reporting expectations from the very beginning of our funder relationship. As automated reminders were well-received, we’ll keep those in place, which will hopefully further clarify reporting deadlines as they approach.

We had a few respondents who would have preferred a phone call and/or in-person meeting in lieu of written reporting. While we will still require some form of written report at the end of a grant period to ensure that we are collecting information for our own records and to share in our reports and with our board, moving forward, we will be offering the option of a phone call or in-person meeting to replace any interim reports requested between the original grant award and final report. This option will be communicated in grant award letters as well as in instructions for each report submission and in the automated reminders sent out about these interim report deadlines. 


 Foundation Relationships

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):   I wish I had more contact from staff. (5)    I feel like the staff are overbearing or ask too much of me. (1)    I feel like the staff are overbearing or ask too much of me. (0)    I feel like the board is overbearing or asks too much of me. (0)    I would like more opportunities to meet with staff/board members in person or by phone. (3)    Staff is responsive in a timely manner. (16)    I know where to go if I have a question, concern, or other discussion topic. (12)

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):

I wish I had more contact from staff. (5)

I feel like the staff are overbearing or ask too much of me. (1)

I feel like the staff are overbearing or ask too much of me. (0)

I feel like the board is overbearing or asks too much of me. (0)

I would like more opportunities to meet with staff/board members in person or by phone. (3)

Staff is responsive in a timely manner. (16)

I know where to go if I have a question, concern, or other discussion topic. (12)

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):   Consulting and advice on our website. (4)    Consulting and advice on our social media presence. (6)    Consulting and advice on other communications pieces (print, annual reports, stories, case studies, etc.) (5)    Governance advice (1)    Strategic planning (6)    Formal convening opportunities with other non-profits (e.g. roundtable discussions on a particular topic or issue, presentations about your work or our work) (10)    Informal convening opportunities with other non-profits (e.g. coffee or breakfast gatherings, happy hours, etc.) (11)    Training sessions on specific topics related to non-profit work (12)    Informal conversations with Foundation staff about ideas/challenges/etc. (14)

Note that Google Forms cut off the longer responses here, which originally read (in order):

Consulting and advice on our website. (4)

Consulting and advice on our social media presence. (6)

Consulting and advice on other communications pieces (print, annual reports, stories, case studies, etc.) (5)

Governance advice (1)

Strategic planning (6)

Formal convening opportunities with other non-profits (e.g. roundtable discussions on a particular topic or issue, presentations about your work or our work) (10)

Informal convening opportunities with other non-profits (e.g. coffee or breakfast gatherings, happy hours, etc.) (11)

Training sessions on specific topics related to non-profit work (12)

Informal conversations with Foundation staff about ideas/challenges/etc. (14)

Additional thoughts, comments, and feedback received related to our relationships with grant partners, and ways we can support the work beyond financial contributions:

 

Have you thought about a meeting — breakfast, lunch or some informal gathering - with your funders? Seeing who we are and how we might be connected might be interesting.
The fact that you invited organizations to complete this survey says a lot about the Foundations understanding of partnership. Thank you very much for the opportunity. We look forward to working into next year, especially with the networking and possible trainings.
Awesome! Very modern approach to grantees (viewed as partnership, flexible with changes, current on trends, etc)
As a first time recipient, I would love to have some time to meet with staff.
We welcome a relationship that is not just about funding, but that is about shared goals and objectives. I believe that we have much to share and look to share with our funders, allies and colleagues when we can.
I think the staff are excellent!
Foundation staff have visited our site several times. It has been a great relationship. Site visits and face to face meetings are essential for both parties.

What we learned about how we approach relationship-building, and what we plan to do about it:

 

Again, this was a bit of a mixed bag of responses. In general, we’re proud that most respondents found us timely in our communications, though it’s something we’ll continue to work on. (As a small-staffed foundation, we often face the same capacity issues that our grant partners do, and there are certainly weeks when it can be hard to stay on top of everything…)

In response to the feedback around more opportunities to meet with staff and/or board members of the foundation, we’ll be implementing “office hours” opportunities in 2019. Since we don’t have an actual office, these will be informal opportunities throughout the year to meet with staff and/or board members at a coffee shop during a set window of time. These will be held in Frederick, Baltimore and Annapolis. Details will be shared as soon as events are finalized — stay tuned for an announcement on this to come later this week!

We’re also very excited to work on new ideas around bringing our grant partners together in 2019 in meaningful ways.  In addition to the “office hours” opportunities mentioned above, we will be exploring ways to hold more formal and informal convenings of and trainings for our grant partners in 2019. Keep an eye on our blog and emails for announcements about these trainings and convenings.

In addition, we will continue to offer our staff’s time to support website rebrands and content, communications, and strategic planning. If you are a current grant partner interested in this kind of support from us, please contact Kerry McHugh for more information.


Shared Grantmaking Decisions

Shared Grantmaking.png

We’re still very much working out how and what this might look like, and appreciate the feedback regarding potential conflicts of interest. If this is something you’d be interested in discussing with us further, please contact Kerry McHugh at kmchugh@hjsfoundation.org for more information.


Additional Topics Raised

In addition to the questions outlined above about specific steps of our process, we offered respondents a general question to provide feedback about topics not covered above. The responses are collected below:

I’d love the opportunity for multi-year funding. This would truly deepen the work and impact.
Yes, I have been communicated with over 30 grant makers for 18 years now and I must admit that I have been most comfortable with HJSF. Thank you.
We appreciate you! We appreciate the confidence you have in our agency and the relationships we continue to build. Thank you
as a past grantee I wish we could continue to seek funding but unfortunately based on your new strategic priorities we are no longer a good match. We understand this change but we enjoyed working with you!
No. I appreciate the opportunity to offer you feedback.
The Serini Foundation is one of the most kind, open, thoughtful, strategic, realistic, supportive, and collaborative foundations with which I’ve ever had the pleasure of partnering (key word). You are very unique and progressive in your approach (unfortunately). I am grateful that you are confident enough to put your truth out into the world and be a model for others in philanthropy to hopefully follow.
Once again this is a great project. I too am a program consultant for a non-profit and I really appreciate funders who are hands on, working with organizations beyond just monetary support. Keep up the good work.

What we learned, and what we plan to do about it:

First off, we actually do offer multi-year funding! While one-year requests may be made without an invitation, multi-year awards are currently made on invitation only, and grant partners must have received at least one year of funding from us prior to an invitation being made for a multi-year commitment. In reviewing the language on our website and grant portal on this, we realize it’s a bit unclear, and will be correcting that ASAP. 

For the rest – well, we’re trying to share the good, the bad, and the ugly here, so we’re pretty pleased we have so many good comments to share with the world. We love working with you all, and are honored to be able to partner with you in changing the systems around cyclical poverty.


Thanks to all who shared their time and opinions in this survey. We are commited to taking each bit of this feedback to heart, and look forward to continuing to learn with you all in 2019.

If you have any additional comments, or would like to follow up on the feedback outlined above, we can always be reached at info @ hjsfoundation.org .