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Boosting your visibility and funding by listening to the people you serve

People are paying more attention to how nonprofits listen to the people they serve. Leading foundations increasingly value nonprofits that have strong feedback practices. They want to support organizations that actively solicit—and act on—feedback. Information about how specific nonprofits gather and respond to feedback is also becoming more visible to individual donors every day. What does this emphasis on listening mean for your nonprofit?

What do we mean by feedback? How is it becoming more visible?

When you hear “feedback,” are you picturing employee feedback, performance reviews, donors giving feedback, or feedback from volunteers? While worthwhile, that’s not the kind of feedback we mean. Even when “feedback” goes by other names—constituent voice, client feedback, or community engagement—fundamentally, we’re talking about systematically listening to the people your organization serves.

According to Feedback Labs, “Research and the experiences of the hundreds of nonprofits and funders in our network have shown that listening—and most importantly responding—to feedback from the people you serve is a great way to improve outcomes and promote equity.” For example, Outreach Chicago, a member of the Feedback Labs network, recently wrote, “Organizations can make a much larger impact by taking seriously the day-to-day conversations from their clients. The answers to ‘how do we make this program better’ often lie not in a grant report but in the voices of the streets.”

Next, what do we mean when we say foundations want to know if you’re seeking feedback and that it’s increasingly visible? We mean that funders are paying deliberate attention to and investing in listening practices. For example, almost 800 philanthropy organizations signed the Council on Foundations’ Call to Action: Philanthropy’s Commitment during COVID-19 pledge, which specifically highlights “listening to our partners and especially to those communities least heard, lifting up their voices and experiences to inform public discourse and our own decision-making so we can act on their feedback.”

Even before the pandemic, investment in feedback practice was growing. For example, Fund for Shared Insight started as a group of 8 funders, including the Ford, Hewlett, Kellogg, and Packard Foundations, who came together in 2014 to make listening the expected norm in nonprofits and philanthropy. Shared Insight now includes 10 core funders and more than 100 additional funders and has invested more than $13 million since 2014 to help hundreds of nonprofits adopt high-quality feedback practices.

New feedback resources have become available, including the Listen4Good online capacity-building program and customized support from such organizations as Keystone Accountability and 60 Decibels.

Finally, information about your organization’s listening practices is becoming increasingly visible via the nonprofit profile on GuideStar and Charity Navigator’s new Encompass Rating System.

What does this mean for your nonprofit?

Many nonprofits already recognize the value of collecting feedback from the people they serve. Now more than 7,000 are “on the record” for doing so by explicitly sharing their practices on their GuideStar profiles. The profiles in turn are used by many funders and donors as they consider organizations to support.

Drawing upon GuideStar’s data, Charity Navigator will also underscore the importance of collecting feedback with the launch of Culture & Community, a component of the Encompass Rating System, which will ultimately evaluate several factors related to community connectedness and the health of an organization’s culture. This will mark a turning point for Charity Navigator, as the ratings organization seeks to guide donors to consider variables, like an organization’s listening practices, that extend beyond traditionally assessed financial metrics. Underlying this effort is Charity Navigator’s belief that an organization’s culture and commitment to fostering strong connections within its community, including program beneficiaries, staff, board, donors, volunteers, and other constituents, can play a key role in helping the organization succeed in its mission.

Encompass-rated organizations that collect feedback and share their practices by completing the How We Listen survey on GuideStar will receive full credit on the Constituent Feedback metric. Since this metric will serve to anchor the Culture & Community beacon initially, completing the survey will also result in a full score for this domain.

What can you do?

If you are already listening to the people you serve, there’s an easy way for you to share how: complete the How We Listen portion of your nonprofit profile on GuideStar. The section has recently been updated to include new questions about whom you serve, how listening promotes equity, and the quality of your feedback practice.

While you’re sharing, make sure your organization has earned a GuideStar 2021 Seal of Transparency so the information for funders and donors is as current as possible. (If you’re not familiar with the Seals, read this recent blog post to learn more.)

To learn more, you can also register for two upcoming webinars:

We look forward to hearing how you listen!

How We Listen was developed as a collaborative effort by Candid, Charity Navigator, GlobalGiving, Keystone Accountability, 60 Decibels, Bridges Fund Management, Development Gateway, Listen4Good/Fund for Shared Insight, Outsell Inc, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, with support from Feedback Labs.


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