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2011 Grantee Perception Report

A Note from Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest about the Center for Effective Philanthropy's 2011 Grantee Perception Report

To download the full report, please click here PDF.

The Hewlett Foundation has just completed its fourth Grantee Perception Report (GPR), conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. Over the years, the GPR has helped the Foundation examine our relationship with grantees with the goal of improving our effectiveness and, we hope, their effectiveness as well.

As always, we learned a great deal from this process. The findings of the report reflect improvements in nearly all measures since we began participating in this survey in 2003. Here is CEP’s unedited summary:

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation receives higher than typical ratings from its grantees on a number of measures, including its impact on grantees’ fields and organizations. These positive ratings are similar to ratings in previous Hewlett grantee surveys, indicating sustained strength in grantees’ experiences and perceptions of the Foundation.
  • Highlighted after the 2009 grantee survey as an area for improvement, the clarity of the Foundation’s communication of its goals and strategy has increased and is now rated more positively than typical.1
  • Hewlett grantees find the Foundation’s administrative process to be helpful, particularly the Foundation’s selection process, and value staff engagement over the course of the grant.
  • Grantees’ ratings for Hewlett’s impact on their ability to continue their funded work in the future have decreased over the years, the only such trend across this survey. Hewlett is rated typically for its impact on grantees’ ability to sustain their work, though ratings are lower than those received in past years.2

As always, there are areas for improvement, described below.

Information Collected in Proposals and Reports

The Hewlett Foundation collects a variety of information from grantees to help us understand their work, improve our own decision making, and ensure compliance with applicable laws. Our goal is to maximize the value of the information we collect while making the process as easy as possible for our grantees and our staff.

Over the years, grantees have reported the process has become less burdensome. But producing these materials can still be time-consuming, and some indicators in the most recent GPR provide an occasion to reflect on our current practices:

  • Some grantees struggle with the logic model and grant progress charts. While the majority considers these helpful, quite a few find them redundant with the narrative or inapplicable for their work. (slides 22 - 23)
  • While grantees agree that the application and reporting requirements are appropriate given the level of funding, the average rating has dropped. (slide 24)

Questions that we are considering include:

  • Proposals: Of the information we collect, what is essential for decision making and compliance? How do our needs differ based on the type of support, our relationship with the grantee, or other factors? Are there better ways of gathering this intelligence besides written material? Are there ways to streamline or simplify the information we collect for compliance purposes?
  • Reports: How useful are reports to us for these essential purposes? How much of the information is redundant with information gained from ongoing conversations with grantees? Is the timing of reports a problem, and how can it be improved? How successful has the short-form renewal application been, and should we expand its use?
  • Logic Models and Progress Charts: When are these useful to us and our grantees? When they are useful:
    • Can we avoid duplication with the narrative?
    • Should programs ask for just the top three to five key outcomes and indicators?
    • Should the charts be tailored for different types of grants? 
    • Can we better educate or train grantees on how to complete and use these?

The GPR also raises a matter for our grantees to consider and discuss. We demand more information about organizations’ strategic plans and outcome measures than many other foundations in order to improve our decision-making process and increase the likelihood of achieving our shared goals. This information can only be provided by someone with deep substantive knowledge of the organizations’ strategies and operations; yet some organizations leave it to their development offices to fill out applications and reports. We imagine that everyone’s interests might be better served if the information is provided by the CEO or operational staff.

Communications

Much effort was made since the last GPR to improve our communications and the 2011 GPR indicates that we have significantly improved the clarity of our communications overall. 

Yet we have made less progress with respect to the consistency of our communications resources, with a rating only at the median. While grantees report that individual communications with their program officers is the most effective means, they believe that the consistency of written materials (website, funding guidelines, and annual report) could be improved. (slides 20-21) Grantees comment that these written materials are too general and vague. 

For us, this raises the question of whether we are comfortable relying on individual communications or whether we should make changes to the website, funding guidelines, and annual report to particularly target grantees as well as more general audiences. We will seek to answer these questions in the coming year.

Conclusion

We are encouraged by the trend of ratings on most measures over the past several years, including their perception of the Foundation’s impact in the fields in which we work. But we remain mystified about the perception that our impact on grantees’ ability to sustain their work has declined. We will continue to explore the reasons for this decline, including discussions with foundations that have scored high on this measure.

Overall we are pleased about how grantees perceive the Hewlett Foundation, but the 2011 GPR reminds us that there are areas in which we could do better. We certainly don't need to wait another three years to learn how we're doing; we are always eager for grantee feedback. Anyone can contact us through our website, on Twitter, and on Facebook, and grantees are always welcome to get in touch with us through their contacts in our program staff and grants administration and communications departments.

 

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1 The Foundation is now near the top of the range of all large foundations surveyed.
2 Neither we nor the Center for Effective Philanthropy staff understand what underlies this finding.