As part of our Foundation-wide assessment, Irvine commissioned a Grantee Perception Report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2006 to survey our grantees about their interactions with the Foundation. The report provides both absolute data about how our grantees perceive us and relative data comparing these perceptions with how other foundations' grantees perceived their funders.
At the time, Irvine had two types of grantees with significantly different levels of interactions with Foundation staff: Our core grantees, who receive 95 percent of our grant dollars, have regular contact with our staff. However, grantees of our New Connections Fund (NCF), a pilot program launched in 2004 and designed to open up Irvine funding to more small and midsize organizations aligned with our programs, had limited contact.
Accordingly, the center prepared two reports for presentation to the Irvine board of directors, one for each type of grantee. The results showed that grantees perceived the difference in interactions, and that NCF grantees wanted more contact with Irvine staff.
These reports were reviewed at all levels of the Foundation. In addition to a discussion at our March 2007 board of directors retreat, Irvine staff spent a day discussing the report results and considering improvements based on the grantee feedback. Below we provide an overview of how we interpreted the findings and what we've done as a result.
Core grantees: Findings and response
Excerpts with key findings
On an absolute basis, this report shows a high level of grantee satisfaction, with the vast majority of grantees responding with scores of five or above on a seven-point scale. Some of this positive response can be attributed to the inherent power imbalance between funders and their grantees, so we focused on the relative scores, which showed how our grantees perceived Irvine compared with how other foundations' grantees perceived their funders.
Overall, we found that comparative grantee perceptions of Irvine were quite positive. Compared with other foundations, Irvine's grantees rated the Foundation relatively high with regards to our impact on the fields we fund, our impact on grantee organizations, the helpfulness of our selection process and the helpfulness of our reporting and evaluation process. Our ratings were less positive on the impact we have on the communities in which we fund, on the quality of our interactions with grantees, and the overall ratings of satisfaction were lower.
These findings and the subsequent board and staff discussions have led us to make a number of changes in how we interact with grantees, including:
- Revising our internal Grantmaking Manual to improve our standards and expectations related to grantee interaction
- Reaching out to other foundations that rated well in this category to solicit their ideas
- Revising our internal grant segmentation system, which guides the amount of time we spend interacting with each grantee
- Setting more explicit interaction standards for each type of grantee, and sharing those standards with grantees so they know what to expect regarding the kind and amount of interaction with Irvine staff
New Connections Fund: Findings and response
Excerpts with key findings
Like the core grantee report, the absolute data for NCF grantee perceptions was mostly positive. However, compared with the ratings received by other foundations, Irvine's NCF grantees rated us lower on measures of satisfaction, impact on the community, interactions and responsiveness. In their comments, a number of these grantees expressed a desire to have more interactions with Irvine staff.
Based partially on the grantee report findings, we closed the NCF and in its place created three new small grants programs within each of our program areas. Details of these new, competitive, small grants programs are available online. This redesign was led by an internal task force that considered a range of possible adjustments and balanced conflicting goals. NCF grantees clearly would have preferred greater interaction, and Irvine staff also seeks increased interactions to learn more about these organizations and the communities they serve. The challenge of the redesign of NCF was to find alternative ways to manage large numbers of smaller grants through an open, competitive process without significantly increasing our administrative costs and, at the same time, offer appropriate levels of interaction.
In addition, NCF did not effectively address the needs of organizations located in Irvine's priority regions of the Central Valley and Inland Empire. These organizations require more concerted outreach on our part and would benefit from complementary technical assistance or capacity-building support, not a one-time project grant as was provided with NCF.
We encourage you to read more about our grantees' perceptions in these reports, and as always, we welcome your comments and feedback.