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Living our Values by Listening to our Grantees

In our 2015-2017 Strategic Framework, we outline four key values at the McKnight Foundation: Accountability, Innovation, Integrity, and Respect. We take these values seriously, and do our best to intentionally incorporate each of them into our grantmaking and other business. When we say respect, we mean that we listen to diverse perspectives; we approach relationships with humility, openness, and honesty; and we engage constructively with partners, colleagues, and the communities we serve.

We view our relationships with our grantees in this spirit of respect and constructive engagement. The many opportunities we have to interact with our grantees during site-visits and routine communication are the bedrock for our work towards achieving our shared goals in a complex environment. To keep us even more grounded, we find it important to step back occasionally and ask our grantees what they honestly think of the job we’re doing.

The Grantee Perception Report

Every three to four years since 2003, McKnight has contracted with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a nonprofit research organization, to administer an independent and confidential grantee survey that becomes the Grantee Perception Report (GPR). CEP gathers anonymous feedback about various aspects of our work, including grantmaking processes, communications, responsiveness, and field impact. Their analysis compares the results to a broader dataset of more than 40,000 grantees from surveys conducted by more than 250 foundations around the U.S. over the last decade. This provides McKnight-specific feedback within a national context of foundation performance.

The GPR is an important tool we use to get an outside eye of how our program teams are performing and how they are perceived in the communities where they work. We use the data to make changes in our procedures, communications, and the professional development of individual program staff.

I’m happy to share the results of McKnight’s latest round of grantee input, plus some of our plans for improvement. First, a couple of notes: Our neuroscience and Southeast Asia programs employ different feedback methods and were not included in this survey. Also, as a learning experiment, we surveyed grantees of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), a global program with a unique structure difficult to compare to our domestic programs. Interestingly, several aspects of CCRP, such as its learning and evaluation approach and the program’s advancement of knowledge, are highly regarded by the CCRP grantees. These high marks from other parts of the world remind us that there are insights to be gained from across our programs as well.

Our Performance

Overall, we continue to perform at a very high level when compared to other foundations across the country. We were pleased to see many areas of continued strength. For example, grantees rate McKnight’s impact on their fields as exceptionally positive—in the top 10 percent of CEP’s overall dataset. McKnight also received high marks for its impact on communities and the extent in which the Foundation advances knowledge and affects public policy in grantee fields. Several other measures were consistent with prior GPRs, or showed slight decreases while remaining in very positive ranges. Our reporting and evaluation scores remain lower than we’d like.

In their comments, several grantees appreciated our emphasis on funding an ecosystem of grantees working in complementary areas. One grantee wrote, “The Foundation is unique in that it recognizes the interconnection between all sectors.” Grantees also expressed interest in having more opportunities to hear staff perspectives on what is or is not working in their fields, and many suggested increasing opportunities to engage with staff, with some requesting more frequent one-on-one conversations.

Opportunities for Improvement

As with past CEP Grantee Perception Reports, this year we’ve examined the latest data and identified several opportunities for improvement. On most fronts, our goal is to work hard to maintain grantees’ positive ratings of our impact. We will also focus on improving grantee experiences with our reporting and evaluation processes, maintain our clarity of communication on goals and strategies, and increase our understanding of fields, organizational strategies, and goals. More details are available in the “Action Plan” memo below.
Staying true to our values of Accountability, Innovation, Integrity, and Respect, our staff will use the results of the 2015 Grantee Perception Report to help us strengthen our grantee relationships and make improvements across programs and individual teams, all to increase the impact and effectiveness of our work together in addressing the vital issues we face.

Thanks to all the grantees who completed the survey. And please remember if you have feedback for us on areas of improvement, give it to us in real time. Please don’t wait for the next survey!

Read the Report

Related Link: The McKnight Foundation Response to the 2015 Grantee Perception Report

Topic: Communications

September 2016

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