August 1, 2019
Foundations can and should do a better job of gathering feedback from and learning with both grantees and the communities they seek to serve. This type of collaborative learning has the potential to inform and strengthen foundation strategy, grantmaking practices, evaluation, and communications. Gathering meaningful input is difficult, however, given power dynamics between foundations and those they support. Even when authentic input has been gathered, it can be difficult to apply insights to ongoing work.What does it look like for a foundation to get feedback from its grantee and community stakeholders? Much of the feedback discussions taking place in the sector center on the role of nonprofit organizations. This article explores how foundations can harness the power of feedback to improve philanthropic practice, using the experiences of the James Irvine Foundation as a case example. It provides information about the foundation and its commitment to constituent feedback, presents two cases from its own experience gathering feedback from community stakeholders and grantee partners, and then lays out a series of culminating lessons and insights based on this work.Overall, Irvine believes that collaborative learning requires more than just listening. To truly harness the power of feedback, foundations must act on what they are hearing, share how they are responding with those who provided feedback, and open up this learning to others who can benefit. To do this effectively, foundations must evolve their internal organizational practices to better incorporate external perspectives.