Listening Key to Better Understanding Community Needs, Report Finds

Listening Key to Better Understanding Community Needs, Report Finds

To better understand the needs of the communities they serve, foundations need to incorporate active listening and field scanning into their practices, a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.

The report, Staying Connected: How Five Foundations Understand Those They Seek to Help (48 pages, PDF), profiles five funders — the Nord Family Foundation (Amherst, Ohio), Helios Education Foundation (Phoenix, Arizona), Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation (Owings Mills, Maryland), SC Ministry Foundation (Cincinnati, Ohio), and Duke Endowment (Charlotte, North Carolina) — that are rated highly for their understanding of their grantees' beneficiaries' needs. Based on interviews with staff at the five foundations, the report identified three common practices among them: listening to and learning from grantees as the experts doing the work on the ground; recognizing the importance of going out into the communities being served; and hiring staff from fields in which they actively fund.

In an interview quoted in the report, Linda Thompson, senior vice president of program administration and organizational learning at the Helios Education Foundation, said, "[W]hen we hire, we intentionally seek people who have experience, expertise, and relationships in the focus areas in which we are working. By bringing on board subject area experts who are embedded in the community, we are continually out there seeing what is happening."

Commissioned by the Fund for Shared Insight, the report also highlights the need for foundations to go beyond seeking to understand the grantees they support and take action to understand the end beneficiaries of the work that is being funded.

"In the eyes of nonprofit leaders, it's critical that foundations understand the end beneficiaries…if [grantmakers] are to build a strong relationship with their grantees," said CEP president Phil Buchanan. "The insights and practices that these foundation leaders share in this report are important lessons that funders of all types can learn from and apply to their own work listening to — and acting upon — feedback from the people they seek to help."

(Photo credit: Center for Effective Philanthropy)

"New CEP Report Profiles How Five Foundations Understand Those They Seek to Help." Center for Effective Philanthropy Press Release 12/12/2017.