On the third day of the Reengineering Philanthropy Conference, the issue of feedback mechanisms was addressed in a session titled, “Completing the Circuit: Strengthening Feedback Mechanisms between Civil Society and Funders towards building an enabling environment for philanthropy”.
It was an insightful session, which blended funding and grantee organizations who shared their experiences, recommendations, and expectations for the funding grantee relationship to guarantee greater autonomy, respect, accountability, and impact. The session was hosted and facilitated by the Segal Family Foundation.
The session brought to light that there is no standard way in which grantees and funders initiate feedback, some initiate feedback annually while others at the completion of a project. As a key component in building trust and fostering a relationship between grantees and funders, there was agreement that the structures and guidelines for feedback should be established at the onset and should be relational. The best partners were described as those that seem more like friends and supportive coaches, and this is influenced by the feedback mechanisms employed.
The more often feedback is given outside the confines of project monitoring and evaluation, the more this feedback is implemented the stronger the funder and grantee relationship. The better the relationship, the more effective and efficient philanthropic initiatives are and the more the impact they achieve. This is because there is room for both parties to openly discuss challenges and collectively find solutions.
Feedback mechanisms can facilitate capacity building since there is space to pinpoint areas of improvement. This stipulates that feedback mechanisms need to shift from not only looking at the grantees and beneficiaries to include grantees and benefactors. Additionally, grantees and beneficiaries need to adopt feedback mechanisms and abandon the idea that these are exclusively between the grantee and the donor. These mechanisms do not need to be complex rather they need to be simple, contextualized and localized to serve their purpose. Cumbersome and lengthy feedback mechanisms achieve the contrary as they do not collect feedback but deter progressive feedback. Further, development partners can facilitate capacity building beyond their pool of grantees by taking the simple yet effective step of offering feedback to applicants who apply for funding.
Sustainability is a key emerging issue in the philanthropic space and feedback mechanisms if employed properly can be a solution to this. As established earlier, good feedback leads to trust between funding organizations and grantees this means the question of overhead costs and quantitative impact measurement can be addressed transparently defining donor and grantee needs and facilitating compromise. Moreover, since feedback facilitates capacity building grantees will be able to identify their growth needs and seek training opportunities to strengthen the institution and ensuring they are sustainable. Good feedback mechanisms will encourage long-term relationships, which translate into lasting endowments as well as appropriate exit strategies for funders.
Power dynamics cannot be ignored when it comes to feedback. As the philanthropic sector seeks to make headway in addressing power asymmetries in the ecosystem, a small but sure way of achieving this is by adopting feedback mechanisms that are impartial and neutral in language. After all, the philanthropy scene should exemplify moral standards and desist from manipulation and intimidation. Feedback mechanisms should be disaggregated and have different streams, this can facilitate outsourcing or anonymity of sensitive feedback, which will safeguard from dishonest feedback that perpetuates power asymmetries.
Henceforth, organizational structuring that attributes to systemic power can be tackled. This kind of feedback is key in the #shiftthepower conversation that seeks to achieve equity in decision-making.
Although good feedback mechanisms are not a panacea for the challenges facing the sector, they have a huge role to play in the success of the sector. This role transcends fostering relationships to ensuring initiatives have a high impact. Feedback can play a curial role in innovation within the sector by functioning as a much-needed suggestion box for both civil society and funders. This is as long as there are implementation mechanisms that accompany feedback. The philanthropic sector can unlock all these benefits by completing the circuit between funding organizations and grantees combined with rigorous implementation. After all, feedback is only useful when executed
*Nyambura Tanya is a recent graduate, passionate about helping others, and often volunteers at her church.
She came across the 7thEast Africa Philanthropy Conference through her internship with SNO Consultancy Inc., a firm that consults for civil society, not-for-profit organizations, and other players of the philanthropy ecosystem. She gives her reflections on the Parallel Session titled: Completing the Circuit