Listening and improving grantee partnerships

Listening and improving grantee partnerships

At the San Francisco Foundation, we are committed to listening to our grantee partners and deepening our engagement. We want to deepen our learning about what it takes to move large-scale change, learn from others, and work together to advance racial equity and economic inclusion.

To best achieve our goals as a foundation, we must listen and learn from candid, constructive feedback from our grantees. Today, I share with you the findings from our 2022 grantee survey, what we learned, and how we will change and improve to be a better partner to our grantees.

Our key grantee survey findings

  • The number of touchpoints between grantee partners and our staff increased from 2018 to 2022. In 2022, 78% of grantees reported connecting with their Application Lead at least every few months, compared to 54% in 2018. This improvement suggests that our recent efforts to deepen community engagement resonated with grantee partners and helped improve relationships with their Application Lead, SFF staff person who is a grantee partners’ main point of contact. We developed the Application Lead approach after our 2018 grantee survey results highlighted that many grantee partners did not know who they should contact at SFF.
  • 75% of grantee partners reported understanding our funding priorities but only 55% agree that it is easy to learn about funding opportunities and 39% understand how grant decisions are made.​ This suggests that we need to strengthen our communication with grantee partners, especially about our grant processes and decisions.
  • Grantee partners’ experience with the application process is generally positive thanks to the support provided by Application Leads. More than 90% of respondents said that grant terms and expectations are clear, and more than 80% agreed that they received sufficient guidance on completing the application. We will continue to and explore ways to continue to reduce the burden on grant applicants.
  • 91% of grantee partners agreed that SFF is committed to racial equity in the region, especially our commitment to prioritizing funding to Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. To continue supporting racial equity in the region, grantee partners recommended that we leverage our leadership and influence to advocate for equitable policies.

We are deeply humbled by this feedback. Building on our progress, we see opportunities to continue to improve, and we pledge to do even better. Over the next year, we will prioritize improving grantee communication. We will work with our teams to make sure that we are clearly communicating our funding priorities and how grant decisions are made. Finally, we will continue supporting Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders to ensure that our most vulnerable communities have access to the resources they need to thrive.

Listening carefully to build a better foundation

We have been on an intentional learning journey since 2018 when we partnered with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to get grantee feedback on what was working and where we had room to improve. Listening to grantee partners is part of our equity agenda and our overall commitment to community. Building on the learnings from the CEP grantee survey, we have taken the following steps to respond to grantee partner feedback:

  • Simplified our grant application process through a new, streamlined Common Application
  • Ensured more frequent touchpoints between staff and partners
  • Increased transparency about our grants by publishing our grantmaking data in 2022 after developing a comprehensive data infrastructure

Grantee survey methodology

In February 2022, we launched an Annual Grantee Perception Survey—with some similar topics to the 2018 CEP grantee survey—to continue to listen to and understand our grantee partners’ experience. Our annual survey helps us better understand our partners’ relationships with SFF staff and their experience accessing funding. Our Strategic Learning and Evaluation team designed the survey with input from staff from our Community Impact department and current grantee partners. In February 2022, we sent the survey to over 500 organizations that received grants from SFF between July 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021. 147 respondents completed the survey (29% response rate).