15 Ways To Improve Grantee Communication at Your Foundation

This was originally posted by me as a guest blogger on the Philanthropy News Digest’s blog,  PhilanTopic, and re-posted on the Communications Network blog.

Clear communication with grantees matters:

Grantees are typically a foundation’s chosen agents of change, selected for their ability to create impact. The better a foundation can communicate its goals and strategies to grantees, the more effective these partnerships will be — and the more likely grantees will be to perform in ways that are consistent with the foundation’s goals. (Center for Effective Philanthropy).

Effective communication with grantees is not just the job of program staff, but of staff at all levels of the foundation – from administrative assistants, to human resources, communications, evaluation, and executive staff.  The California HealthCare Foundation believed this when it embarked upon a review of its grantee communications practices. Below are 15 recommendations for improving grantee communications that resulted from this effort (the full report, Improving Communication Between Foundation Staff and Grantees, is available for download)

15 Ways To Improve Grantee Communication at Your Foundation

  1. Consistently communicate your foundation’s goals and strategies through both written and verbal communication with applicants and grantees.
  2. Regularly discuss grantee communications challenges, best practices, and grantseeker feedback survey results at program team and staff meetings. Additionally, you can encourage regular meetings of program officer/program assistant teams to discuss the status of proposals, grants, and grantees, and even organize formal discussions for program assistants to share their strategies for successful grantee communications and to troubleshoot communications problems.
  3. Ensure program staff has adequate time and resources for consistent grantee communications and for building strong relationships with grantees.
  4. Incorporate grantee communications into staff performance appraisals.
  5. Conduct regular grantee satisfaction surveys to keep grantee experiences at the forefront and to track progress in making improvements.
  6. Pay special attention to communications measures that support grantee satisfaction and effective communication, as identified by the Center for Effective Philanthropy: These include measures  such as the quality of interactions with foundation staff, clarity of communication of a foundation’s goals and strategy, foundation expertise of the field, consistency among communications resources, and selection and reporting processes that are helpful to grantees.
  7. Make sure program staff consistently direct grantseekers to grant guidelines, templates and other resources designed to help grantees submit proposals and reports.
  8. Spend time talking with grantseekers about (1) Your selection process and timeline, and (2) The foundation’s and the applicant’s expectations (e.g., for final deliverables, reporting, communication during the grant period) before their grant proposal is finalized.
  9. If multiple foundation staff will be working with the same grantee, be sure that they coordinate their communication and expectations, and represent a “single voice” from your foundation.
  10. Develop a “grantee communication checklist” for program staff. We created one for the California HealthCare Foundation, which you can download and modify to meet your foundation’s needs.
  11. Compare your funding guidelines against the “common characteristics of highly successful funding guidelines” developed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.  Make adjustments to your guidelines as appropriate.
  12. Consider conducting a communications audit and/or Web site usability testing.
  13. Solicit grantee feedback when making improvements to funding guidelines and Web site.
  14. Ensure that funding guidelines and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) make a clear connection between the funding opportunity and your foundation’s goals and strategies.
  15. Make sure it is very easy for grantseekers to find information on your Web site about how to apply for a grant.

Learn more about the California HealthCare Foundation’s efforts to improve grantee communications and assess impact.

Has your foundation made efforts to improve your communication with grantees? If so, what worked?  If you are a nonprofit, what foundation communication strategies work best for you? What do you wish foundations would do differently?  Please leave a comment and share your ideas!

About this project:  The California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) commissioned a Grantee Perception Report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2009. Though its ratings related to both consistency and clarity of communication were statistically similar to or above those of other foundations, comments and suggestions from grantees indicated room for improvement in communication between staff and grantees. CHCF decided to retain Putnam Community Investment Consulting, Inc.  to identify ways to improve this communication. Putnam’s focus was to analyze the results of CHCF’s Grantee Perception Report and to conduct further research that included assessing grantee communications practices of CHCF program staff and other foundations, as well as examining the presentation of grantee resources on its Web site.

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Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2010.

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