Late last year, the Irvine Foundation commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to conduct its third Grantee Perception Report survey of Irvine’s grantees. CEP had conducted previous surveys for us in 2006 and 2010. While there were a number of areas for which grantees rated us higher than before, we were sobered to see our ratings lower in quite a few arenas compared to 2010 and to our peer foundations.
As anyone who has had a challenging performance review can attest, it can be hard to receive tough feedback. At the same time, candid constructive input is essential for any organization that strives to improve. The following are critical issues we think merit our attention because of their relationship to our organizational values and to our deep commitment to improving the lives of the people of California.
Partnership – We aspire to work collaboratively with grantees as partners to advance our shared goals, but the findings related to Funder-Grantee Relationships suggest that we have more work to do. We were rated lower overall compared to our score in 2010, and lower than our peers. Grantees seem less comfortable approaching Irvine with problems and were less likely to feel they were treated fairly compared to peer foundations.
Grantee Sustainability – We aspire to help our grantees achieve their goals, but many grantees do not see us contributing to the overall sustainability of their work and rate us lower on the Foundation’s impact on their organization compared to 2010.
Understanding our Grantees’ Communities – We are committed to listen to and learn from others, and as a funder entirely committed to California, we are particularly focused on understanding the breadth of diverse communities across our state. Yet, grantees rate us relatively low on our understanding of their local communities and the social, cultural and socioeconomic factors that affect their work.
Transparency – We aspire to clearly communicate our goals and activities, but grantees rate us lower on the clarity and consistency of our communications compared to 2010.
In response to what we’ve heard, we are committing to adapting in the following ways, because we believe these changes will support greater impact of our grantees:
Providing core support. For those organizations whose overarching strategy is highly aligned with Irvine’s own strategies for impact, we are designing more grants as general operating support to allow these grantees the flexibility to adapt strategies as the environment for their work evolves.
Covering full costs. We understand how important it is to fund the full cost of an organization’s work. We are exploring with grantees the scope of their indirect costs, so that our grants reflect their full cost of the outcomes they are seeking to achieve.
Extending flexibility. We are communicating clearly to grantees our openness to considering changes in grant timeframes and objectives as circumstances evolve.
Deepening engagement in inland regions. We are hiring a new senior program officer who can serve as a point person for grantmaking in our priority regions. This position gives Irvine added capacity to spend more time in, and deepen our understanding of, the inland regions. This staff member will work closely with all program teams to inform our grantmaking efforts.
In addition to pointing out areas for Irvine to improve, the grantee survey also identified a set of strengths upon which we can build. For example, grantees judge Irvine to have made important impact on their fields, particularly in the Youth and California Democracy programs. This is helpful confirmation that our deep investments in field-building are viewed by grantees as an important way we can add value to their work.
It’s exciting to learn this now. As we look forward to the next horizon of Irvine’s work, we will seek to incorporate field-building more systematically into our grantmaking to support organizations that are scaling proven models to expand opportunity in our state. (We are also exploring how we can expand our support to grantee organizations with an interest and capacity to test out promising new approaches to expand opportunity.)
We remain committed to improving our processes and practices. And we are grateful to all of you who participated in the survey. We look forward to many more productive conversations with our grantees as we build on strengths and learn from constructive feedback.
As always, your input is very important to us, and we hope to hear from you as we work toward our shared goal of expanding opportunity for the people of California.