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Insights: Our Grantees Spoke and Here’s What We Learned

At the end of 2019 we asked Echidna Giving grantees for feedback on how we are doing. We wanted to understand: (1) their overall experience working with us; (2) the impact we are having on their organizations and the wider field; (3) how they feel about our relationship and interactions; and (4) how efficient and effective they think our processes are.

This is the first time we have asked for formal feedback from our grantees (though it won’t be the last!) and we found it incredibly valuable. To our grantees responded to the survey: thank you. In the spirit of transparency, we would like to share what we learned and summarize how we plan to move forward. But first, why did we conduct a survey?

WHY WE DID A SURVEY

Echidna Giving’s primary vehicle for supporting change in girls’ education is through our grantees. If we aren’t effectively supporting their work, we are hampering our chances of success. We realize that it’s not always easy for grantees to provide open and honest feedback to us directly (although we welcome and encourage it!), so we wanted to provide an anonymous channel for feedback. June Wang from CHANGE/D helped design, administer, and analyze our survey results.

WHAT WE LEARNED

We were delighted and grateful that 93% of our grantees took the time to respond to a 20-question survey. Here are six key findings from our results.

Finding #1: Grantees are largely happy with Echidna Giving.

We were pleased to hear that, in general, our grantees are very happy with Echidna Giving and their interactions with our team. For example, the survey showed that:

  • 97% of grantees rate their experience with Echidna Giving higher than other funders with whom they work. What’s more, over half (53%) rated their experience with Echidna Giving at the top end of the chart, indicating it was not just better but significantly better than with other funders.
  • We are building solid relationships with our grantees. All of our grantees feel respected in their interactions with us (97% “to a great extent”). They feel that we are responsive, we trust them, and we provide candid perspectives on their work.
  • Grantees find us to be committed, collaborative partners who are supportive and helpful. As one grantee noted, “It really has been an excellent partnership, where we feel like we’re working as a team with Echidna staff, rather than the usual grantor/grantee relationship.”

Finding #2: We have positively influenced the organizations we support, but we are not uniformly known for supporting any particular aspects of an organization. 

Grantees report that Echidna Giving has had a positive impact on their organization. That said, the chart below shows that no one aspect stands out in terms of Echidna Giving’s influence. The category with the highest rating is “other,” where seven grantees pointed to support like advice on board formation, building organizational strategy, serving as a reference to peer funders, and providing research advice. Insofar as not every organization is in need of the same type of support, we hope this signals that we are effectively tailoring support based on what a given grantee actually needs. At the same time, we think we could be doing more to have a positive influence in certain areas, as discussed in the section that follows.

Finding #3: Grantees crave even more funding (no surprise there!), connections, and thought leadership/partnership.

When it comes to ways that Echidna Giving could help further our grantees’ mission or build their organizational capacity, respondents most frequently cited three things:

  1. Connections (59%) — e.g. to prospective donors, like-minded organizations, researchers, individuals
  2. Funding (36%) — including unrestricted grants, long-term funding, and support for research
  3. Thought leadership/partnership (30%) — by sharing high quality research and resources, disseminating best practices on girls’ education, amplifying work of our grantees as part of our thought leadership

Finding #4: We are most known for our work on girls’ education. Grantees think we have a good understanding of the field and are making a positive impact on it, but see room for us to play an even greater role in fostering connections and providing thought leadership.

When asked to describe three things that Echidna Giving is known for in the wider field, 81% of respondents cited girls’ education. 27% spoke of research and evidence.

Grantees feel we are making a positive impact on the field, especially with respect to developing leaders and making connections. 

Consistent with the comments we received about how to best support grantee organizations, survey respondents asked us to continue connecting and sharing knowledge. They called on us to play a thought leadership role to influence the field. Specifically, our grantees suggested that we continue bringing together practitioners for collaborative work, linking researchers to cross-pollinate their work, supporting regional meetings, and creating platforms for knowledge sharing. One respondent called for us to “Use your voice! People should hear more from you as thought leaders.”

Finding #5: We could help grantees better understand our strategy and where they fit within it.

Grantees generally understand Echidna Giving and how to engage with staff, but we think we could do a better job of ensuring every grantee knows our strategy and how they fit in it.

Finding #6: Our proposal and reporting processes are working well. We are known for our flexibility, which is usually an asset, but at times can be a liability.

Both our proposal and reporting processes get similar marks with respect to clarity, flexibility, and helpfulness of staff. Echidna Giving rates high on flexibility of these processes specifically, and 22% of respondents used “flexible” or a similar adjective when describing Echidna Giving in three words. 

At times, however, our flexibility might be a liability. For example, one respondent noted that “The proposal process has been very open ended and flexible, and because of this flexibility we often provide too much information and we aren’t sure if it is all relevant to your staff. A little more direction or feedback on our proposal, such as basic guidelines on what content Echidna would like to see from us, might help better direct the information we include.”

HOW WE MOVE FORWARD

The survey results suggest that there is a lot that we are doing right. So our first goal moving forward is to maintain the high quality interactions we are already having with most of our grantees. Our small team allows us to maintain more consistency in the quality of our interactions across staff, but it also limits our capacity, which could be a challenge as we grow our portfolio. We will need to work hard to retain the responsive, respectful, flexible, and supportive interactions that we have with grantees today. 

In addition, we think there are a few areas where we can strengthen our work.

First, we want to offer more support for grantees in specific organizational areas. Most notably, we want to have more of a positive impact on how grantees address gender in their programs and organizations. Towards that end, over the course of 2020 we will be working with the Stanford University Global Center for Gender Equality to review our current portfolio and understand whether and how we can do better in this regard. In addition, we plan to experiment with offering “office hours” to grantees, where we make ourselves available for calls or meetings with grantees who request brainstorming time around specific organizational challenges. 

Second, we plan to adopt a grant management system and workflow that strikes the right balance between maintaining flexibility and providing grantees with clarity around what we need and when. Over the past year or so, we have found ourselves rapidly outgrowing the bespoke grant tracking systems (read: spreadsheets) that served us well with a small portfolio. As a result, we plan to begin using a grant management system for the first time in 2020. Our hope is to gain efficiencies internally and provide more clarity on process to grantees without breaking what is working well or creating bureaucratic processes that burden our grantees. We look forward to engaging with our grantees in rolling out our new system to ensure that the latter happens.

Third, we will work more intentionally to share our strategy with grantees, and clarify where they fit within it. As a first step in that direction, late last year we posted short, 2-page descriptions of each of our strategy areas with concrete examples of existing grantees. You can read more about our work to (1) promote gender equality in early education, (2) integrate life skills and mindsets into government school systems, and (3) ensure governments and donors invest smarter and more in girls’ education. In conversations with grantees over the course of 2020, we will be sure to share these short descriptions, describe how we see their work fitting in the larger portfolio, and answer any questions grantees might have.

Lastly, we have heard the call for us to intensify our work in thought leadership and making connections for grantees. We have plans for each of our strategy areas to do more work with respect to knowledge sharing and connections across those portfolios. We will continue our monthly Puggle, sharing updates from the field of girls’ education. And we will amplify the work of our grantees through this forum and others. In particular, be on the lookout this spring for a new resource for the field of girls’ education drawing together what we know about the current ecosystem of actors in the space with what we know from the current evidence base.

We are cognizant that in our efforts above we are liable to make mistakes and to have mis-steps. Please point these out to us! We welcome and invite your ongoing feedback and input on where we can be doing better and how we can best support you. We also plan to conduct a similar survey every two to three years, and only hope we can meet the high bar we have set for ourselves if not exceed it!