Listening Our Way to More Effective Grantmaking

Melinda Tuan

Listen for Good (L4G), the centerpiece of a fast-growing collaborative of foundations putting feedback on the front lines of effective grantmaking, is opening its ears even wider.

The program, sponsored by Fund for Shared Insight, has announced its second, national, open request for proposals, with plans to make more than $3.3 million in grants to 75 nonprofits dedicated to listening systematically to the people they seek to help.

The new money and focused attention on feedback comes as the field continues to evolve amid growing interest and greater recognition of the benefits of listening – and acting on what is heard. A recent study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that 99 percent of nonprofits collect feedback from the people they seek to help, using a variety of methods, including focus groups, surveys, and one-on-one conversations.

But most nonprofits do not collect feedback in an ongoing, systematic way. What’s more, the study says, even though a majority of foundation CEOs believe seeking beneficiary feedback will increase their 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 is working to change that. Our initiative supports diverse, customer-facing nonprofits as they start or improve their practice of systematically collecting and using feedback from the people they seek to help. L4G participants employ a semi-standard survey instrument based on the Net Promoter System (NPS®) widely used by businesses for customer feedback. With that standardized tool, L4G is building the infrastructure for strong feedback loops in the social sector, and creating benchmarks in key issue areas.

As we introduce our second round of L4G funding, we’d like to share a few early lessons from our first-round nonprofit partners as they continue to move through their newly designed feedback loops:

  1. Get buy-in from participants. Our House, which serves homeless families, has bumped up participation in its surveys through a fun event, Speak Up Week, during which the group administers surveys on paper and touch-screen laptops, engages families with an entertaining video encouraging participation, “I Spoke Up” stickers, and photo booths. PACE Center for Girls gets the young people it serves eager to participate in surveys using a Snapchat video created by youth for youth.

  1. Be prepared to be wrong. Shelby Residential and Vocational Services (which received its L4G co-funding from the Plough Foundation) learned that clients were dissatisfied with the group’s longstanding practice of seeking input from clients and their families during group-based care-planning meetings. Staff members were surprised to hear that clients felt they were unable to express themselves freely in the group setting but were encouraged by how much clients appreciated the new survey process.

  2. Close the loop with the people providing feedback. Demonstrating that it listens to the people it serves, Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco designed a new home-buying preparation class in response to survey participants who said they needed more information and know-how on the subject. Nurse-Family Partnership, which works with first-time mothers, puts on its website so-called electronic flip cards, which have a participant question on one side and the organization’s response to it on the other.

That kind of feedback on the feedback – what we call closing the loop – seems so obvious and intuitive that it shouldn’t merit extra praise, right? Wrong. Many people who benefit from the work of nonprofits are not used to having their opinions solicited, let alone getting confirmation they are being heard. 

A Nurse-Family participant was so bowled over by the group’s responses to feedback that she wrote a note, saying that “the request for feedback about the program is cool, but after a big survey, having them reply and say, ‘We hear several of you want blank and we’re doing blank to accommodate that,’” that is unheard of. She went on to say that she has recommended to “every pregnant woman” she’s met to seek out the group’s services.

With our second RFP just released, more and more nonprofits will have the chance to listen to their clients and improve their services like Nurse-Family Partnership continues to do. To get started, please see the announcement below about the new RFP, visit Fund for Shared Insight online and sign up to receive our emails.

Happy listening!

Melinda Tuan is managing director of Fund for Shared Insight.

New Listen for Good RFP, a National Co-Funding Opportunity

Listen for Good (L4G) is a grant initiative of Fund for Shared Insight that seeks to help nonprofits build the practice of high-quality feedback loops with their clients, the people they serve. Nonprofits receive funding and technical assistance to implement a simple, yet systematic and rigorous, feedback loop with clients. Listen for Good is available to nonprofits across issue areas, populations, budget levels, and geography anywhere in the United States. In order to engage more funders in supporting beneficiary feedback efforts and using the data to inform their work, Listen for Good is structured as a co-funding opportunity.
To participate in L4G, a nonprofit must be nominated by a funder. If the nonprofit(s) a funder nominates is selected to participate, the nominating funder will contribute $15,000 of the $45,000 grant total for each nonprofit selected. Grantees will receive a grant 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. This initiative launched in 2016, and awarded 46 grants in its inaugural year. In 2017, Listen for Good is expanding the number of grants to 75, and to do that we need your help!

We will accept proposals from funder-nominated nonprofits until Friday, May 26, 2017 at 11:59pm Pacific Time.

Interested funders: Please click here for more information.

Interested nonprofits: Please click here for more information.

Potential nominating funders can also learn more by joining our informational webinar:

Interested nonprofits can also learn more by joining our informational webinars:


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