More open communication, more feedback and greater transparency could improve the practice of grant-making. Yet funders do not always recognise the potential benefits of thinking about what they could do to develop more honest and open relationships. Those calling for greater transparency are talking, in particular, about funders’ priorities, processes and decisions.

Key findings:

  • Good working relationships and openness to contact can help most aspects of grant-making. Yet many grant-makers feel they do not have the time and resources for this, which can create a Catch 22 situation.
  • When grant terms are not publicly available they inhibit good fundraising practice. Conditions could be provided at the start of the application process and made available online.
  • A lack of clear and accessible information from the funder is a problem as is a shortage of constructive feedback from funders, which prevents fundraisers from targeting their efforts.
  • Feedback can improve practice but many grant-makers don’t provide it. While charities value feedback many grant-makers don’t, believing it to be a burden even for though those who do say it is time well spent. Those who do report say that not giving feedback at all is more likely to provoke an applicant than giving it.
  • Funders could recognise the benefits of providing constructive feedback and provide a clear contact point for any queries.
  • Many foundations don’t have a complaints procedure.
  • The process of creating a common vocabulary takes time and in a prerequisite for other activity, such as developing shared measurement approaches.
  • Grant-makers want honesty from charities, however the unequal foundations of grantor –grantee relationships often prevent this. Grant-makers could ask themselves what they can do to encourage an honest working relationship.
  • Foundations could be more transparent about their funding priorities. Those calling for transparency, including charities, are generally not asking foundations to be more forthcoming with financial information or better access to contact information for staff but rather, to be clear, open, and honest about processes and decisions.

“When we asked charities what makes a grant-maker stand out as a role model, six out of the ten most common themes had to do with contact.” [1] – Joe Saxton, nfpsynergy

“Transparency seems to be at the heart of everything – being clear and open about what you aim to achieve, what information you require and why, how your processes reflect your aims, what funding partners can expect from you and what you in return expect from them. If we don’t ensure that our funding allows for this… then we are setting ourselves up at worst to fail…” [2] – Jo Wells, Blagrave Trust

“Unfortunately, this hunger for customer feedback hasn’t caught on in the non-profit world.” – Ned Breslin, Water for People in the Chronicle of Philanthropy

“What would happen if we all held ourselves to these same standards for impact and disclosure?”   – Shauna Nep, Goldhirsh Foundation at Grantcraft