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Dear Colleagues:

The relationship between nonprofit organizations and the foundations that fund them is not always smooth and mutually beneficial.

We need to continuously learn and collaborate, to mirror the complexity of the real world. We also need to develop comprehensive, wise solutions to the problems we are jointly tackling.

Surdna has spent the past year reviewing our goals and strategies to get clearer about how we can gauge our success and that of our grantees. To help inform our review, we contracted with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to survey our grantees on their perceptions of our foundation. CEP has conducted such surveys since 2003 with a two-fold purpose: to gather data that is useful on a field-wide basis, and to provide individual foundations with reports on how they are perceived by their grantees.

Surdna was part of a cohort of 29 foundations. We asked CEP to survey our grantees, examine how we are viewed relative to other funders who participated in the survey, and report back their findings to our board and staff in a Grantee Perception Report. The Report is based on a comprehensive survey of grantees' perspectives on our performance across several key areas including process, communications and impact. The major findings of the Report can be downloaded below. We encourage you to read it.

We plan to change some of our current practices in response to what we've learned. An outline of key areas and our response follows.

Grantee Satisfaction and Interactions

Surdna is more highly regarded by its grantees across important broad dimensions such as satisfaction and quality of interactions than most other foundations. Surdna is also valued by grantees for its substantial field-related contributions, and is one of the highest-rated foundations in this survey round on dimensions such as understanding its fields of funding, advancing knowledge in those fields, and influencing public policy. All of these findings speak to the perceived high quality of Surdna staff, valued for their professionalism, knowledge, and contributions to their fields and grantees. Here we will try to continuously improve.

Communication of Goals and Strategy

Although Surdna is rated about average in clarity of communication of goals and strategy, grantees comment that their understanding came through personal interactions with program staff. Written communications and our Website were less helpful. In fact, Surdna's written communications - published guidelines, Website and annual report - are just below the overall foundation average in terms of helpfulness. Surdna staff apparently make up for that with individual communication, and they spend more time at it than their peers at other foundations.

The central issue is effective communication. We will conduct an internal review of our communications strategy and tools over the coming months.

Assistance Beyond the Grant Check

The survey found that Surdna provides only an average level of assistance beyond the grant check directly to grantees, mostly in the form of advice on grantees' fields and active assistance in securing funding. Much of that assistance is provided directly by staff, rather than third parties or intermediaries (which are more commonly used by other foundations).

We were surprised by this finding - working "beyond the money" has been one approach Surdna has been very proud of. Staff conversations strongly suggest that, given our average high grant load, not all of our grantees are worked with intensively and this may be reflected in the voting. We suspect this is natural, but over the coming year will take a serious look at our own activities to see how we can push the needle toward better service for more grantees.

Evaluation Process

Grantees view Surdna as slightly below average when it comes to the helpfulness of our reporting and feedback process. In October, 2004, we launched a streamlined application process, and added clearer success measures questions to our proposal process. This will enable us to more effectively monitor progress, deliver resources and share what we learn with our grantees and others. This new process is part of a larger success measures framework we developed over the course of the last year. We will monitor the process and course-correct as needed in the months ahead.

At Surdna, we enjoy collaborating with our grantees and seek to work with them, as well as other funders, in supportive and collegial relationships. We are committed:

  • to respecting those seeking grants by demonstrating promptness, courtesy, responsiveness and objectivity in assessing how their grant requests meet our philanthropic goals.
  • to communicating honestly and directly with those seeking support.
  • to demonstrating both accountability to and support for our grantees after a grant is made.


We hope the CEP report and Surdna's reponse have been helpful to you. We will report again periodically on the progress we're making in the areas noted above. Do feel free to write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or any of our program staff if you have additional comments. Thank you for your interest in the work of the Surdna Foundation.

Sincerely,

Edward Skloot
Executive Director

Additional information about the Center for Effective Philanthropy may be found at www.effectivephilanthropy.org. Of particular note is their report, Listening to Grantees: What Nonprofits Value in Their Foundation Funders, available at www.effectivephilanthropy.org/publications/publications_overview.html.

Download Related Document(s): CEP Report

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