The perceptions of funders and grantmakers: Do you care?

16th March 2016

The perceptions of funders and grantmakers: Do you care?

16th March 2016

The perceptions of funders and grantmakers: Do you care?

Funders/donors and grantmakers are well-known for their ability to critically evaluate development organisations and intermediaries.  This due diligence forms an important part of the funding cycle. 

The main reasons for conducting these critical assessments are to ensure that the organisation:

  • Is credible and a registered entity.
  • Complies with specific governance issues such as board oversight and local legislation.
  • Has the resources to implement a specific programme effectively.
  • Has a good reputation, credible development theories and practices and will add value to the funder’s strategy and strategic objectives.

But who checks on the foundations, donors, funders or grantmaking organisations? Over the years Next Generation has been asked to assist with a number of grantmaker perception surveys. Feedback from our clients about the value of donor/grantmaker perception surveys are that such surveys:

  • Provide feedback about the depth and quality of stakeholder relationships within the grantmaking discipline and about the grantmaker specifically.
  • Provide in-depth understanding about the value and effectiveness as well as perspectives of stakeholders on giving patterns or trends in the development sector, thereby contributing to more effective strategies and grantmaking approaches.
  • Provide valuable lessons for growth, advancement and more efficient organisations that not only enhance reputations, but save costs and increase giving budgets or lead to changes in investment portfolios/focus areas – more importantly, contribute to an even greater impact and return on investment.

In essence, our brief in these cases are to:

  • Test perceptions of recipient communities (beneficiaries) and intermediaries of the funder.
  • Test perceptions about the effectiveness of the organisation.
  • Test perceptions about the resources, strategy and general interaction with stakeholders (beneficiaries and intermediaries).
  • Test awareness/effectiveness of funding strategies and policies as well as grantmaking criteria (general operating processes and procedures).
  • Compare the funding organisation to its peers within a specific development and/or industry context.
  • Test satisfaction of stakeholders pertaining to issues such as impact on the community, leadership in the community, responsiveness to the community, connection to the community.
  • Test perceptions across a number of aspects, including: satisfaction, recommendations, impact, leadership, engagement and connection, value and benefit, subject expertise, and the contribution of volunteerism.

Generally, we find that there are a lot of similarities between perception surveys of various funders. What we have learned from conducting these perception surveys is:

  • That grantmakers are not sharing enough information. Practitioners regularly highlight the high administrative burden of their work, but this is as a result of not communicating clearly or regularly the funding strategy, the funding budget, the funding criteria, the funding outcomes or objectives or even funding cycles and decision or payment processes. This means that any organisation/community looking for funding uses a shotgun approach in the hope that some funder may take pity on them and actually fund a programme.
  • Similarly, just to get in the front door, grantmakers do not communicate which resources are responsible for a particular focus/investment portfolio. This results in funding applications being duplicated and simply sent to generic email addresses
  • More concerning though is the fact that grantmakers do not share programme outcomes, impact or lessons learnedabout grantmaking/development practices, despite rigorous and burdensome reporting requirements from intermediaries and development partners.
  • The quality and quantity of interactions is a major issue for concern. It seems that in order to streamline application processes, technology has become a barrier for communication between parties in the value chain.  Regular comments include: “No communication, no feedback, no responses, no information.” As such it seems that, despite the availability of numerous media and communication channels, funders have become unapproachable to communities and other stakeholders.

Based on the above observations, we would like to encourage grantmakers to:

  • Seriously consider perception surveys to inform their future strategic, operational and programme activities.
  • When conducting grantmaker perception surveys to consider including the following aspects:
    • Responsiveness of the organisation (and its resources) to the needs of communities
    • The organisation’s impact (direct/indirect/positive/negative) on communities
    • The organisation’s leadershippertaining to aspects of influence, contribution, knowledge and information sharing
    • Ethics, credibility, transparency, engagementare important concepts within the development sector, as are aspects of local knowledge. Knowledge about living conditions, knowledge about the quality of life, help to ensure quality within the development sector

When conducting perception surveys we always ask participants to provide the funder with ideas or suggestions on how to improve their grantmaking practice in the future. It is noticeable that these do not really change from one funder to the next – confirming our belief that much can be learned from grantmaker perception surveys.

These suggestions and ideas include:

  • There is a constant change of staff – we never know whoto contact.
  • We would welcome an opportunity to engage personally with grantmaker staff.
  • We would appreciate regular updates about our progress
  • Be clear about the investment strategy, investment portfolios and the process for approaching organisations for funding – we can abide by the rules as long as we know what these are.
  • Engage regularly across a number of communication platforms. Communities do not necessarily have access to the internet nor do they have access to computers, so physical visibilityin communities are important. Consider community forums, community newspapers, consider communication in native language, consider open days – make it easier for organisations and communities to engage with funders.
  • Consider grassroots organisations. They may not have access to technology or be well versed in marketing and communication but this is where real change happens. It is difficult for smaller, rural-based organisations to compete for funding with well-established, well-resourced organisations.
  • Consider new approaches to development. Be open to new innovative ideas and don’t always fund the same organisations. Become less risk adverse and consider innovative new approaches to development. If you want to focus on youth development, speak to the youth – they may be able to help you design a new approach rather than just implementing the same kind of programmes year after year.
  • Consider new approaches to giving. Communities (beneficiaries) and intermediaries (development organisations) don’t just need money, they need help with marketing, fundraising, public relations, volunteering, infrastructure, food, consumables, etc.
  • Consider operational expenditure. Donors are quite secretive about their own operational expenditure, but they expect full disclosure of operating and programme-related expenses. Whilst it is clear that no programme can be implemented without associated expenses, communities are also asking for consideration of contingency funding, as it is clear that unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances have an impact on the outcomes of programmes. In this regard transparency is critical and funders need to be much more open to dialogue and flexible in their approach to development.

In closing, considering the perceptions of funding organisations, grantmakers and donors can be a rewarding exercise. Much can be learned from the process which will enhance, improve and increase the impact and future work of the organisation.

Based on our experience in this field we would like to share the following questions that we use in conducting donor/grantmaker perceptions surveys:

  • Are you satisfied with the organisation’s leadership in the community?
  • Are you satisfied with the organisation’s ability to make an impact on specific issues?
  • Are you satisfied with the organisation’s knowledge of and experience with working with local non-profits?
  • Are you satisfied with the quality/effectiveness of the organisation’s staff?
  • Are you aware of the organisation’s investment strategy and investment focus?
  • Are you comfortable/satisfied with the organisation’s administrative processes?
  • Do you think the organisation is ethical and credible?
  • Do you think the organisation displays values of integrity and trustworthiness?
  • Do you know if the organisation works with other funders and donors? Do you believe this is a satisfactory collaboration?
  • Do you know if the organisation is able to mobilise community resources in support of specific issues?
  • To what extent does the organisation contribute to your ability to make an impact on the issues you care about?
  • In your opinion, to what extent is the organisation making an impact on the community?
  • How well‐known do you think the organisation is among your friends and colleagues in the community?
  • How has your engagement with the organisation changed in recent years?
  • Please rate your familiarity with the organisation’s impact on education/health/sports development/social justice/social cohesion/welfare.
  • Please rate the organisation’s ability to make an impact on education/health/local economic development.

While the questions above are just an indication of the type of questions that can test perceptions of a grantmaker’s stakeholders, the outcome of a perception survey could assist with more effective grantmaking and greater impact in social/community development.

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