Grantee Feedback Improves Our Work

December 8, 2020 Perspectives

MacArthur President John Palfrey shares the results of our grantee perception survey and some initial next steps based on the feedback.


Too often in philanthropy, feedback only goes in one direction: from donor to grantee. We are committed to challenging—and, where appropriate and possible, resetting—this power imbalance.

To better serve the needs of grantees and improve our operations, we began working with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) in 2016 to survey the organizations we support. CEP’s Grantee Perception Report provides us with aggregated findings that protect the identity of individual respondents. The confidential and candid feedback we receive is crucial as we seek to help organizations deliver on their missions. We are grateful to CEP for their partnership over these several years.

Based on the 2016 survey results, we made some important changes. We began regularly communicating our funding priorities and program strategies with grantees. We reviewed our grantmaking processes and identified ways to provide value beyond a grant check, such as holding communications and evaluation trainings for grantees. We changed our indirect cost policy, so we better cover the expense of operating and running the projects and organizations we support.

In late 2019, we engaged CEP again to survey our grantees. The world has changed in dramatic ways since then as we have experienced a global pandemic and a righteous uprising against racial injustice. These seismic events, another form of large-scale feedback, have impacted our work and prompted us to do more. Our day-to-day work is centered on the Just Imperative as we seek to make our systems and our societies more inclusive and equitable—it keeps us focused on what we do and how we do it. The insights we gain from grantees through the CEP survey offer a comprehensive assessment of grantee perceptions of and experiences with MacArthur.


Survey Results

The results of the 2019 survey show improvements since 2016, including:

  • Clarity of communications about our goals and strategies;
  • Transparency and openness to grantees’ ideas;
  • Providing grantees with non-monetary support; and
  • Strong relationships with grantees involved in strategy, evaluation, and learning work with us.

The survey results also show areas in need of additional attention. It found that grantees, at times, propose projects they think we are most likely to fund, rather than what they think would be most helpful or needed for their organization. This showcases the power imbalance in our relationships with grantees, a dynamic we seek to address.


Next Steps

Over the past few months, we have examined the survey results and agreed on a number of concrete actions and next steps.

  • We will strengthen our communications with grantees about strategy transitions, theories of change, and plans for evaluation and learning.
  • We will deepen our interactions with grantees, focused on developing close and trusted relationships with them, and facilitate ways for grantees to meet and learn from one another.
  • We will create more avenues for grantees to tell us what they need to be stable and vibrant in delivering on their missions, such as non-monetary forms of support.

While we have made progress, we continue to learn from our grantees and find better ways to partner with them.

We welcome your reactions to the survey results and our plans for improvement. We look forward to working with CEP to survey grantees again in 2022 as we work to make our processes and interactions more just and equitable. And we send our thanks to all our grantees who made the time—taking it away from their crucial programmatic work—to share this candid, anonymous feedback with us at MacArthur. It is only through this constructive critique that we can improve our grantmaking practice and play our role in helping improve the field at large.


Download the survey results >