Every organization wants to know, “How are we doing?” On the surface, this seems easy to answer. At MeHAF, we can verify that we are meeting our dates and deadlines to achieve goals and objectives set by the Board. Grants are made and reports are reviewed in a timely way. This type of tracking is helpful, but not enough. To really get a full picture of how we’re doing, we need to ask our grantees and applicants what they think.
At MeHAF, we want philanthropy’s role to be greater than simply being a source of funding. We believe that by convening grantees we can create opportunities to share expertise and build synergy to advance the field. We can also bring information and expertise to grantees in ways that can stimulate new thinking or build connections with similar efforts outside of Maine.
MeHAF regularly includes evaluation as a component of our grantmaking, and we ask grantees to evaluate their own work. In large grant programs, we often bring in the resources of external evaluators to help grantees, foundation staff and the Board to understand what grantees have accomplished and to what extent our overall goals for the initiative have been achieved. These evaluations tell us a great deal about individual programs. We are committed to sharing what we learn and incorporating lessons into our plans for the future. But these types of evaluations don’t tell us much about the way we do our work as a foundation.
The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) mission is to help philanthropic funders do a better job in their grantmaking. CEP helps to identify areas for improvement in how foundations interact with applicants and grantees – both in personal interactions and in relation to the steps and requirements of grant processes. They also assess how much the funder understands and is having a positive impact on the grantee organizations and on their fields of work.
MeHAF participated in a survey by CEP in fall 2015 that reached out to declined applicants and funded grantees from the preceding year. Based on the responses from grantees and applicants, we have generally been a supportive and accessible funder. Grantees also appreciate honest and supportive relationships with MeHAF staff.
However, our ratings for understanding organizations are lower, though this may be a factor of the type of grants we were making at the time (all were fairly directive in nature – purposefully so). We also have some work to do to make sure that our processes are not overly complicated or time consuming and that they are of value to both applicants and grantees.
Two anonymous quotes shared by CEP sum it up. “They [MeHAF] make you feel like a partner in the work to make our communities healthier.” “MeHAF is one of the most involved funders we deal with… This is a double edged sword: They are very helpful but, at times, their processes/interactions/communications can be exhausting.”
How are we doing? Pretty well, but there is a lot more to do. We will keep analyzing our processes and communications to make them more streamlined and clear. And we’ll keep up our efforts to be an involved and supportive partner with all of our grantees and the organizations that apply for grants.
If you want to see more details about the results of the CEP survey, a summary PowerPoint is posted on our website.
Please, let us know how we’re doing. Reach out to any member of the staff. We want to know, and with your help and input, we want to be the best funder we can be.
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