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2009 Grantee Perception Report

A Note from Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest about the Center for Effective Philanthropy's 2009 Grantee Perception Report

To download the full report, please click here.

This is the third Grantee Perception Report we have conducted since 2003. We have participated in this useful process mainly to get a better understanding of our grantees' attitudes about many aspects of the funder/grantee relationship. If one thing stands out from this most recent report, it's that we can always do more to articulate what our goals are, how we hope to achieve them, and how we measure success.

Over the past several years, the Hewlett Foundation has devoted a great deal of attention to what we call outcome-focused grantmaking, and it is through that lens that responses from the Grantee Perception Report are particularly valuable to us. Therefore, before commenting on this year's report, I'd like to say more about the Foundation's general approach to philanthropy.

Outcome-Focused Grantmaking and "Expected Return"

Outcome-focused grantmaking begins by specifying the outcomes that we are trying to achieve. For example, the Foundation's Global Development Program seeks to improve the lives of people living on less than $2 a day. By committing to something specific, we force ourselves to be rigorous in our grantmaking decisions. With clear goals defined, outcome-focused grantmaking then develops strategies based on an "expected return" approach, which attempts to factor in costs, benefits, and risks of program components and grants.

This approach doesn't seek more quantification than is reasonable given the huge margins of error in the underlying estimates, but it nevertheless provides a baseline for informing and testing program officers' and grantees' intuitions. Expected return analyses were particularly important during our recent reduction in program budgets, and guided inevitably difficult decisions about how to responsibly reduce or exit certain grantmaking approaches. As wrenching as these budget reductions were, the staff's earlier analyses of expected returns on most program strategies allowed us to make tough decisions in a non-arbitrary manner.

Finally, outcome-focused grantmaking requires continuous feedback on whether our grants are progressing toward our and our grantees' goals, so that we both can make course corrections as we go along.

What We Heard from Grantees in the 2009 Report

Effectiveness
The 2009 Grantee Perception Report indicates that the Foundation is highly effective in achieving its substantive goals. Taking our main comparison group to be large private funders, we are perceived to be among the leaders in these areas:

  • Impact on grantees' fields
  • Understanding of grantees' fields
  • Advancing knowledge in the grantees' fields
  • Effects on public policy
  • Impact on grantee organizations
  • Understanding of grantees' goals and strategies

We rank at the median with respect to "impact on sustainability of funded work," with high ratings from grantees to whom we provide renewable institutional support and, understandably, lower ratings from grantees who receive limited-term support for particular projects. Even so, it is somewhat of a surprise and a disappointment that our rating in this category is lower than in 2006.

Reporting Process
The Foundation's ideal for grant proposals and reports is to ask for all the information we need for effective grantmaking, but no more. The Grantee Report places us slightly above the median large funder with respect to "helpfulness of selection process" (a downward, albeit insignificant, change from previous surveys). It places us noticeably above the median for "helpfulness of reporting and evaluation processes" (a significant upward change)a consequence of program staff spending more time discussing the reports with grantees.

Much of the implementation of outcome-focused grantmaking takes place in grant proposals, which describe grantees' goals and how they intend to achieve them; in reports, in which grantees report on their activities and progress toward those goals; and in monitoring and evaluation, which show not only whether the Foundation and our grantees are engaging in our intended activities, but whether they are on track toward producing the desired outcomes.

The Grantee Report indicates that we demand less administrative time than do other funders over the life of a grant. At the same time, 40 percent of grantees report that we request more information in applications and reports than do other funders. The crucial measure is not the amount of time and information required as such, but whether they contribute to achieving our shared goals. My guess is that they do, but also that we can continue to streamline procedures and focus on what is most important for the success of each grant.

Communication of Goals and Strategies
One metric from the Grantee Report that gives us a clue about how to improve the proposal process is our below-median rating for "communication of goals and strategies." This may be partly explained by grantees' reports of a 20 percent change in their primary contact at the Foundation in the six months preceding the survey. But grantees also commented that written material is not always consistent with program officers' messages and that messages from multiple contacts within the Foundation are not always consistent. Grantees asked for more clarity about how their grants fit with our program strategies. We plan to experiment with how to do this systematically.

All of our internal grantmaking processes and interactions with grantees can be more efficient with good information management systems. In 2009, the Information Technology and Grants Administration staff launched a comprehensive online report review system, which includes automated report reminders to grantees, a Web site where grantees can submit reports, and an internal application that permits program staff to review reports and approve payments.

Conclusion

Based on the Grantee Report, grantees' satisfaction with the Hewlett Foundation and their views of the quality of interactions with staff members have both improved and are above the median of peer foundations. Grantees would like more time from our program staff; however, in encounters with grantees, I have heard many compliments about program staff and never a complaint about discourteous treatment.
 
In short, this report confirmed our assumptions about how our grantees perceive the Hewlett Foundation and remind 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 Web site, on Twitter, and on Facebook, and grantees are always welcome to get in touch with us through their various contacts among our program staff and grants administration and communications departments.

To download the full report, please click here.