Communication is Key: Funder Feedback Q1 2019

by Natalia Schoorl

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As with all relationships, communication is key to professional relationships as well. Communication was a theme that came up regularly as our team discussed the feedback we received in Q1 of 2019.

In a comment we received via Funder Feedback, a grantee shared their interpretation of Grantee-Centric Philanthropy and also asked us to be “less apologetic” when turning down grantee requests. This person wrote, “Being grantee-centric, to us, is that you are fair, transparent, clear and develop initiatives that are pro-grantee...[We] are entrepreneurial and will make as many requests as possible and understand that sometimes things won't work out.”

It is helpful to hear and receive feedback on how grantees experience our team in interactions. We often wrestle with this tension in delivering philanthropy with a grantee-centric approach because we want to be of service and yet we have to acknowledge the limitations of what we can do. This comment was a good reminder that it is important to be clear and honest about what we can or cannot do. To address this feedback and improve our team’s ability to say no in a confident, clear, and sensitive way, we decided to weave this topic into a session and practice at our team retreat coming up at the of May.  

We also discussed this comment from a different response: “I'd like to know more about how we can be a better grantee.” Reflecting on this comment as a team, communication came up again as a hallmark of relationships we have with grantees that feel authentically rooted in trust and candor. When we do a good job of building relationships, and there’s a two-way flow of communication, we find that a grantee will ask for what they need, communicate to us their expectations of us, share candidly what challenges they are having and ask for our support, as well as share their mission and work confidently. There is no silver bullet trick to building strong relationships. It takes time, effort, trust, and understanding from all parties involved. This comment was an appreciated reminder for us to check in periodically with grantees about expectations of each other, what’s going well, and what we can both do better, nonprofit and funder.

The Funder Feedback tool is just one way we get insight from grantees and other partners. We have also received feedback via direct email, GrantAdvisor, or even phone calls. Feedback we have received in the past has led us to improve processes, lighten diligence, and change our outlook on issues that nonprofits face. Ultimately, we aim to address what we can to improve our service to grantees. Thank you to all who took the time in Q1 to share your thoughts.

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Other resources

Both non-profits and funders can check out Unicorns Unite for suggested activities to build partnerships based in service, trust, empathy, and teamwork.

Radical Candor is a resource for how to give feedback that is direct and kind. We refer to this framework when giving internal feedback, and it is applicable whenever we are aiming for clear, empathetic communication within any professional relationship.