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Effective Philanthropy: Learning from Our Partners
In 2022 we took a big leap with our partners: We initiated a standardized survey of funded partner perceptions administered by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). Relationships are the bedrock of our work, and we wanted to deepen into different ways of listening to our partners. Are we helpful? Do we understand the nature of partners’ organizations and work? Are we transparent? The survey was anonymized as one way to level power dynamics, and it was designed to identify patterns that transcend individuals.
Sixty-one percent of our partners responded to the CEP Grantee Perception Report, which asked about qualitative and quantitative aspects of our work together. Our results were then compared with CEP’s dataset of more than 300 funders to understand how Fetzer is doing in the larger context of the field of philanthropy.
The feedback was humbling, a cause for both joy and reflection. Below we outline key findings, share highlights, and articulate our commitments and next steps in the work ahead.
We thank our partners for their transparency, feedback, honesty, and clarity. We honor each and every leap into brave space that this work requires.
Theme: High-Touch Relationships and Appreciation for Interactions with Staff
Partners provided ratings that are in the top 1 percent of CEP’s overall dataset for the extent to which Fetzer exhibits trust in their organizations’ staffs. Additionally, partners provided ratings that are in the top 10 percent of CEP’s overall dataset for their comfort in approaching Fetzer if a problem arises and for respectful interaction.
In their written comments, partners described Fetzer’s influence as “focused on bridging,” “a shaping role,” and “a model for collaboration.”
Another partner noted,
“…Fetzer integrates their values into their processes by not conforming to modern capitalistic oversight and micro-management. I never felt uncomfortable or scared to share, even when things were not going so well. The response was always surprising—compassionate and supportive and even at times, therapeutic…. Very often, my program officer helped me see the work I was doing in a broader light and also how actually, I was doing some incredible work…."
Theme: Strong Understanding of Partners’ Organizations and Challenges
The Fetzer Institute’s understanding of its partners’ organizations is a key strength. Partner ratings place the Institute in the top 20 percent of CEP’s comparative dataset for this measure.
First-time partners, however, provided significantly lower ratings compared to previously funded partners for their perceptions of Fetzer’s impact on and understanding of their fields and for their perceptions of Fetzer’s compassion for those affected by first-time partners’ work.
The Fetzer Institute also provides 52 percent of its partners—a larger than typical proportion—with non-monetary support. Sixty percent of partners who received some form of non-monetary support described it as a “major benefit.”
In the words of one partner,
“Their influence on our organization was empowering us to be unabashed about our biggest mission.”
Theme: Communication Is an Area for Improvement
Despite strong perceptions of interactions with Fetzer staff, partners provided lower than typical ratings for many measures related to communications.
“The Institutes processes, interactions, and communications are always in flux. At the practical program officer level, interactions are collegial, supportive, and clear. In high-level communications, messaging is more opaque.”
When asked how clearly the Institute has communicated its goals and strategy, partners provided ratings in the bottom quarter of CEP’s overall dataset.
“I did not know about the Institute's larger vision. This limited my ability to convey it to others and also my perspective on how I could be of help and support it.”
Sharpening the clarity and consistency of our communications is a major commitment for Fetzer, and we are dedicating significant time and resources to this in 2023-2024. For example, Fetzer is in the process of hiring a new Communications Director (a role that the Institute has not had on staff since 2013), which we think will add significant value in this area.
Theme: Mixed Experiences with Funding and Partnership Processes
When asked to what extent was Fetzer’s selection process a helpful opportunity to strengthen the efforts funded, partner ratings placed Fetzer in the top 20 percent of CEP’s dataset.
“Fetzer Institute is a relationship-forward organization that cares deeply about its partners. While the Fetzer team can sometimes be challenging to pin down—which makes sense, given their ambitious scope and portfolio—they are always fully present and engaged during our interactions.”
However, partners simultaneously provided ratings in the bottom 10 percent of CEP’s overall dataset for the extent to which Fetzer was clear and transparent about the selection process requirements and timelines and the criteria the Institute uses to decide whether a proposal would be funded or declined.
“It's not clear what the timeline for submission is or how long it might take for a decision to be made….”
Notably, the most frequently suggested theme in open-ended partner comments spoke to the Institute’s application, reporting, and evaluation processes. Partners suggested further opportunities to clarify and streamline administrative requirements and reduce time to funding decisions. This may be summarized through one partner’s words: “Fetzer is a leader in the conversation about spirituality but is hampered in its influence by its slowness.”
This sentiment gives us cause to reflect, as our way of being in the world centers contemplation. Our being a contemplative-centered organization, for some, can put us out of sync with the pace of the world, but we also consider this a strength we bring to our work. Striking the right balance is always a tension and we will continue to work to deepen our understanding of the perceptions and challenges this presents to others.
These report findings have a significant bearing on our strategic planning to shift from project-based to movement-focused work. This includes sharpening the clarity and consistency of our communications and dedicating substantial time and resources to it in 2023-2024.
The spiritual foundation for a loving world requires us to both be in sync with the pace of the world and to retain our way of being in the world, which values contemplation in community. We are grateful to our funded partners who are part of this community and are shining a light on how we might deepen into the work ahead.
We hope this report and resulting commitments resonate with our partners and provide a learning exchange within the wider philanthropic community. If you have questions or comments about the survey findings, we welcome them! Please contact Sara Critchfield, Vice President, Global Outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org.