In 2014, The Fund for Shared Insight (FFSI) was launched in the America with the ambition of making philanthropy more effective. Seven founding-funders decided to focus on three areas of work: feedback practice, feedback research, and foundation listening and sharing. By 2017 $15.9 million dollars had been invested in FFSI. What have the funders and their partners learnt?
FFSI have recently released a report by ORSImpact which answers this question over 50 pages. The full report is accessible here. Three key lessons emerge: that feedback is hard – especially ‘closing the loop’ – and that it takes time and resources; that those at the very top of the charity power pyramid – funders – are perhaps the worst at listening to and acting on feedback; but that despite these challenges, feedback is generating fresh ideas, driving improvements and helping charities be more effective.
Feedback is hard and takes time and resources
The ORSImpact report details several challenges that almost all of the FFSI’s 70 grantees faced: generating buy in from staff; ensuring staff had the time and skills required to listen to feedback; trying to reach and engage different populations; and responding to feedback in a meaningful and efficient fashion. This was despite many grantees being identified as not-for-profits who were early adopters and/or who were considered strong, high-capacity organisations.
Funders have work to do too
The seven founding-funders were joined by 39 other funders during the first three years of FFSI and most of them, according to the ORSImpact report, remain unclear on how feedback to not-for-profits can inform their own work. This despite having a firm belief that not-for-profits should listen closely to their constituents. A small number of funders did make some changes to their grant process, asking the applicants how they sought feedback on their work, and some sought direct feedback on their own practices, but there remain unanswered questions about whether funders should be listening to the organisations they fund, to their end beneficiaries, or instead focus on supporting not-for-profits to hear from and act on feedback from their constituents.
Better feedback is leading to change
Despite the challenges faced in collecting, understanding and using feedback, not-for-profits are finding the information gathered useful in shaping how they work. Of the 2016 Listen for Good grantees, between 60% and 79% of organisations planned to make changes to things like operations, programme offering, and staff-client interaction, based on data. Those organisations who have benefitted from FFSI grants plan to continue their feedback work with more than half of grantees planning to increase their efforts.
The fund’s focus on listening to the least heard voices has also helped not-for-profits advance their equality work, providing a greater and clearer focus on issues facing those whose voices have previously been marginalised.
What next for FFSI?
FFSI was originally established with a three-year commitment from funders. The decision to extend the lifespan of FFSI reflects not only the progress made by grantees with support from FFSI, but also the challenges that remain ahead. In particular, for interest in and use of feedback to become more prevalent in the not-for-profit sector, more work is required on how feedback tools, methods and approaches can be adapted to different needs and resources.