What We're Thinking

Closing the Loop: Sharing our Learning

Ever wonder if final grant reports just collect dust in a corner of the Foundation’s office or get thrown into the furnace (or the digital equivalent)? These reports contain a wealth of information that organizations spend significant time writing, and our team works diligently to read every final grant report- albeit sometimes a little later than we like- and collects information from the reports to help us learn and improve our work.

Every year, we analyze trends on what we are hearing through OE final grant reports and conversations with our grantee partners. It would be selfish to keep all that interesting learning to ourselves, so we are always looking for ways to share our learning back with you! We recently tried a new way by hosting our first ever OE webinar in February. During the webinar, we shared what we’ve learned from the capacity building funding we’ve provided to individual organizations with our most important audience – leaders and staff from the organizations who received that funding. We also gathered additional feedback from the group of current and recent grantee partners that joined the webinar.

We were honored that the session garnered over 60 participants — and relieved that no serious technology hiccups occurred. Phew!

Curious about what we covered in the webinar? Here are the highlights:

  • The most common focus area in 2017 for capacity building grants to individual organizations was leadership and coaching, followed by strategic planning. While strategic planning, fund development planning, and communications planning have always been popular focus areas, in recent years we’ve noticed a real growth in interest in leadership development and executive coaching, and an increase in the number of projects focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. The graph below shows the number of OE projects in 2017 by project focus type. (Projects often have more than one focus area.)
  • OE evaluations over the years have all shown that the great majority of organizations meet or exceed the objectives they set out for their OE project. These results have been consistent over time and hold true across Foundation program areas and OE project focus areas (e.g. strategic planning, leadership development, etc.). In 2017, 82% of the organizations receiving OE grants met or exceeded their planned project objectives.
  • In the OE final grant report we ask about the challenges organizations faced in implementing the OE project. Inadequate staff capacity/time is the most frequently cited challenge. Last year, 34% of OE grant recipients reported that finding enough staff capacity to focus on the OE project in addition to their regular jobs was a major challenge of the project.

  • After presenting that data, we asked webinar participants in a real-time poll about the challenges they faced in their own OE project. Twenty-six percent of participants said inadequate staff capacity/time was a challenge they experienced, followed by the project taking longer than expected (15%) and staff turnover (13%). Interestingly, 19% said they didn’t experience any serious challenges.
  • The last question in the grant report asks for advice to the OE team. Generally, organizations have been satisfied — or at least they haven’t wanted to offer advice through the final report. In 2017, nearly 60% of grant reports included no feedback or advice. But for those offered advice, a few themes have emerged. In 2017, 13% of our grantee partners suggested that we provide multi-year OE grant funding. Another 13% suggested funding indirect costs and/or staff time. When we conducted a real-time poll during the webinar asking participants to choose the two pieces of advice that most resonated with them, 46% chose multi-year funding and 43% chose more flexible funding. Twenty-nine percent also chose more opportunities to learn from other organizations.

At the end of the webinar, we asked the group about other kinds of opportunities and challenges they are experiencing now, and what other advice they have for OE. After those first nerve-racking seconds of silence when you’re not sure if anyone will speak up, we were inundated with responses! Here are a few comments that represent themes that came up more than once:

“Additional sharing of tools developed through OE grants would be great so we can build on what others have learned.”

“Media training/engagement is becoming increasingly important, especially for advocacy organizations.”

“We are graduating to a better set of problems, and enjoying increased awareness, perceived relevance and success. But success has created capacity issues in meeting the opportunities for growth. This is an ongoing but expected challenge in embracing growth and opportunity.”

“…mergers or partnering that may change work of each organization to make the objectives/vision of both agencies better achieved by working together.”

We left the webinar inspired by the thoughts and suggestions of our grantee partners and eager to roll up our sleeves to figure out how we can best respond. We also heard loud and clear that organizations want to hear more from each other and to learn from their shared experiences.

As we consider how we can improve the way we work, we are diving deep into everything we’ve heard from the webinar and the evaluation results from the past. We are talking with our grantee partners, colleagues in the Foundation, with experts in the field, and many others to refine our approach for providing capacity building support for our partner leaders, organizations, networks, and whole fields. We greatly appreciate the time that every organization takes to fill out the grant reports, and the extra hour that many took to participate in the webinar.

Do you have more advice for us as we look to improve the way we do our work? Please let us know in the comments below!

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