Seeking feedback - asking questions and being ready to act on the answers
We are a funder that is committed to being responsive, discerning, connected, flexible and demonstrating a personal touch in all that we do – especially when making grants.
In April 2020, at the height of the first Covid-19 related lockdown in the UK, we commissioned the market research and consulting company nfpSynergy to complete a confidential and anonymous survey with all our unsuccessful applicants, grantees and former grantees from the last two years. We were keen to use this as an opportunity to learn more about the experiences of those that have undertaken part, or all, of our application process and use this feedback to think about how we can improve our grantmaking. The survey also allows us to benchmark our performance against eight other funders that have conducted similar surveys through nfpSynergy. You can find out more about why we wanted to complete this survey in this blog on our website.
This is the first time that we have undertaken a survey of this nature. The first stage of the research collected quantitative feedback through the survey (though there were many open comments too), and the second stage collected qualitative feedback using in-depth interviews with six grantees and four unsuccessful applicants.
We received 361 (out of a possible 629) responses – of which 143 were grantees and 218 were unsuccessful applicants. The high response rate gives us a high degree of confidence in the how representative the results are.
In summary, we were considered an approachable, human, flexible and professional funder that sought to support causes that many other funders won’t – with our preference to offer core funding an additional bonus. It wasn’t clear to everyone though that we are a small organisation of six staff, with just three members of the team working on grants full-time.
We were praised highly for seeking to understand the organisations we work with through our application process and grant management. However, we have work to do to ensure that the decision times are better understood and explained, and reduced if possible – with 50% believing us to be quick in making decisions compared to 59% for the benchmark average.
Our application process was considered excellent or very good by 52% of respondents, and where pre-application advice was sought and received it was thought of as very helpful – although it was mentioned that not everyone realised pre-application advice was available, and in some cases pre-application advice had not been made available to those requesting it.
89% felt that the application was reasonable for the size of grant they were applying for, comparable to the benchmark average, but our inconsistency in offering verbal or written feedback for why we have rejected an application – especially at first stage – was seen as an area for clear improvement. Our applicants tend to spend more time applying for a grant from us than the benchmark average – but this might be due to the fact that we meet with applicants at second stage to inform our decision making.
A high proportion of grantees found reporting back on their grant ‘not difficult’, outperforming the benchmark average. However, 17% of grantees were interested in a closer working relationship with us (compared to 7% of the benchmark average).
There’s a lot for us to reflect on in our results. You can read the full report here.
In response to this feedback, we have agreed the following next steps:
- Our grant-making process in terms of the decision times for our two-stage process needs to be clearer. In November 2020, we added details on the timelines we work to on our How to apply page.
- Pre-application advice needs to be available more consistently in a way that is feasible for a small team like ours. To this end, we are updating our funding guidelines annually and including new or updated frequently asked questions based on what we are hearing. We have also expanded the grant team’s capacity in the last year by adding a new permanent member of staff, which should mean we can provide more pre-application support over email, phone and in-person or virtual meetings.
- Feedback on unsuccessful applications needs to be given more readily. From October 2020 onwards we have started providing written feedback on why an application was unsuccessful at first stage, and we hope our increased capacity in the team will mean that we can give further feedback over email, phone and/or in person or virtual meetings to those that need this.
- Our grant management needs to offer more contact and support to those that want it. We have reviewed the distribution of the grant portfolio across the team over the summer, and feel that this is now spread more evenly, which should enable the three staff with a grants portfolio to be more responsive
- Some queries were raised about how open we were to supporting organisations we haven’t funded previously. Based on our 2020/21 grantmaking figures, we can confirm that 50% of the grants we made last year were made to charities that have never received a grant from us before, 33% had not applied to us ever before, and 17% had applied to us at least once before unsuccessfully.
We plan to re-run this survey in the future, but in the meantime we will continue to provide an open environment in which those we fund and those applying to us feel empowered to tell us what they really think – the good, the bad and everything between.
We are really pleased to have conducted this perception survey. We didn’t expect a response rate as high as 57% and we are grateful that organisations found up to 30 minutes to complete the survey. This research has provided us with clarity and the space in which to reflect about what we must do to be a better funder.
As an organisation we are committed to listening, learning and continuous improvement.
If you want to learn more about this work, please contact our Director, Sufina Ahmad.