Nonprofits and funders have many ways they can collect data to understand how they are doing in their work—including in-process performance indicators and longer-term measures of impact. Another important source of data and insight, and one we believe is often overlooked, is feedback from nonprofits’ clients, customers, and beneficiaries about how a program is going from their perspective. With the Listen for Good initiative, a funder collaborative called Fund for Shared Insight is focused on exactly this—building the practice of listening and responding to those we ultimately aim to serve. We invite funders and nonprofits to join us in a national, open request for proposals to support listening in a new, more systematic way.
A recent study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds that 99 percent of nonprofits collect feedback from the people they seek to help, but most also believe they could improve this aspect of their work. What’s more, the study says, even though a majority of foundation CEOs believe seeking beneficiary feedback will increase nonprofits’ impact, fewer than half of nonprofits receive funding for such efforts. Most nonprofits report the vast majority of funders do not have a deep understanding of their intended beneficiaries’ needs.
Shared Insight’s Listen for Good (L4G) initiative is working to change that, so that both nonprofits and funders are better informed by those they seek to help. The L4G initiative supports diverse, customer-facing nonprofits in the United States as they start or improve their practices of systematically collecting and responding to feedback from the people they seek to help. As part of the project, L4G nonprofit partners agree to employ a semi-standard survey instrument, based in part on the Net Promoter System (NPS®) widely used by businesses for customer feedback. They also have the opportunity to customize parts of the survey to meet their own needs and contexts.
With this semi-standard tool, L4G is building the infrastructure for strong feedback loops in the social sector, and creating beneficiary specific benchmarks in multiple issue areas for the first time. We launched the initiative in 2016 with grants to 46 organizations. This year, we hope to make 75 more grants; the deadline to apply is May 26, 2017.
To participate in L4G, a nonprofit must be nominated by one of its funders. If the nonprofit(s) a funder nominates is selected to participate, the nominating funder will contribute $15,000 (of a $45,000 total grant amount) for each nonprofit selected. Grantees will receive their grants of $45,000 over two years: $30,000 paid the first year and $15,000 the second year. They will also receive technical assistance from a team we’ve assembled to help them design and implement high-quality feedback loops.
One of the first funders I connected with in 2015 when we started to publicize the Listen for Good grant opportunity was the Plough Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee. The Plough Foundation nominated two organizations to participate in Listen for Good in 2016. One of them, Shelby Residential and Vocational Services (SRVS, pronounced “serves”), stood out because the organization serves clients of all ages with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Their first question to us was if we thought the survey tool would work, and if we would work with them to adapt it as needed. Our goal with Listen for Good is to elevate voices that are often least heard in our society and our work, so we agreed wholeheartedly to work with them, adapt, and learn together.
SRVS is a great example for nonprofits that might wonder how an organization can use a survey to collect feedback and get actionable data. Through L4G, one thing SRVS learned is that clients were dissatisfied with the group’s longstanding practice of seeking input from clients and their families during large collective care-planning meetings. Staff members were surprised to hear that clients felt they were unable to express themselves freely in that group setting, but they were encouraged by how much clients appreciated the new survey process.
Another set of actionable feedback from clients had to do with the way SRVS organized clients’ daily schedules. SRVS used to set the schedule a month in advance and share it with clients (e.g., which days clients could go bowling, go to the library, volunteer at the food bank, etc.). What they heard through the L4G surveys was that clients wanted more daily choice about activities. This required some rethinking and rearranging by SRVS staff, but is a change they’ve been able to implement. “We are proud that now, our clients can wake up and choose what they want to do each day, just like you or I can,” said Troy Allen, director of Community Employment and Family Support Services. "The Listen for Good experience prompted SRVS to re-evaluate our service delivery model with a renewed appreciation for people choosing their own paths. This heightened level of direct engagement has initiated an array of person-centered practices that continue to enhance the lives of those we serve."
For the Plough Foundation, participating in L4G has also been a positive experience and one they would commend to other foundations. “I’m so glad that our organization decided to participate in Listen for Good. Not only have we learned so much about the importance of collecting—and using—client generated feedback, this has also been a great way to build a unique and thoughtful relationship with two of our grantee partners,” says Katie Midgley, Plough Foundation director of Research and Evaluation.
To learn more or apply for a 2017 Listen for Good grant (deadline May 26, 2017), please visit Fund for Shared Insight’s website. We hope you will consider joining us to listen in new ways.
Lindsay Austin Louie (@lindsaylouie) is a program pfficer for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation philanthropy grantmaking program, which sits within the foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group. In this role, Lindsay supports two grantmaking strategies that seek to increase and improve the effectiveness of all foundations: (1) Knowledge for Better Philanthropy, and (2) the Fund for Shared Insight. Lindsay holds an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business with a certificate in Public Management, as well as an M.A. in Education, M.A. in Sociology, and B.A. in Human Biology from Stanford University. She is the Board President of Counseling and Support Services for Youth (CASSY), a Bay Area nonprofit that provides school-based mental health services in over 30 local public schools.