Advocacy | Partnership | Impact2022 Feedback Project
What we did and Why we did it
In early 2020, CSFF decided to transition into the Trust-Based Philanthropy (TBP) approach to grantmaking and operations. The Trust-Based Philanthropy Project describes the approach:
At its core, trust-based philanthropy is about redistributing power—systemically, organizationally, and interpersonally—in service of a healthier and more equitable nonprofit sector. On a practical level, this includes multi-year unrestricted funding, streamlined applications and reporting, and a commitment to building relationships based on transparency, dialogue, and mutual learning.
Two years later, CSFF wanted to assess progress toward this approach and to better understand how we can hone and deepen our practice of the TBP values and philosophy. We also wanted to learn more generally about our effect on Routt County and how we might enhance our impact in our community. Subsequently, we launched our inaugural feedback and evaluation project in the summer of 2022.
To guide our process, we adapted the Trust-Based Philanthropy learning and evaluation framework to guide our learning questions, data collection, and analysis.
- Learning for accountability: The goal of this learning lens is to understand funding partners’ perception of our approach to grantmaking and relationship-building.
- Learning for decision-making: With this learning lens, we examine if/how we catalyze a thriving nonprofit sector.
- Learning for impact: The goal of this learning lens is to observe changes in policies, practices, and systems over time.
How we did it
Survey – In June 2022, we delivered an electronic survey to 168 individuals with a connection to CSFF: funding partners, community collaborators, and participants of our Board Leadership Initiative. A total of 61 individuals responded to the survey, but not all answered enough questions to include in our analysis: 40 individuals (24 percent of recipients) completed the entire questionnaire, and another 8 shared partial answers that could be included in some components of our analysis.
Focus group – In follow up to the survey, CSFF contracted with a third-party facilitator, Wayfinder Strategies, to host a confidential, deep-dive conversation where partners unpacked the survey results and offered suggestions further enhancing our relationships and our work. Representatives from 11 organizations contributed their time and energy to that conversation.
Learning for accountability
The goal of this learning lens was to understand funding partners’ perception of our approach to grantmaking and relationship-building. We wanted to know:
- How accessible is the grantmaking process?
- To what extent do funding partners believe CSFF is a valuable resource for information, support, and network strengthening?
We were encouraged to learn that our grantmaking process works for most partners. In general, we heard that our grantmaking process is accessible, low burden, and feasible given universal time constraints, and multi-year general operating grants give organizations space to use funding flexibly. That said, to create an even more partner-centered and equitable process, partners asked us to consider alternative approaches to both applications and post-award accountability practices, such as site visits and annual reporting.
“The multiple-year funding has been instrumental for our organization to help us plan and advance with our mission.”
Specifically, focus group participants recommended that CSFF offer a choice of application and reporting methods: verbal, written, or hybrid. Verbal applications and reporting may be particularly attractive to organizations that do not have grant writers or development professionals on staff, streamlining the process for leadership who is already stretched thinly with other responsibilities. In addition, verbal or hybrid reporting would allow partners to receive feedback immediately, in contrast to written reports that may not elicit any response from CSFF.
Partners shared mixed opinions about the value of site visits. Most survey respondents said that site visits are beneficial to their organizations, allowing them to showcase programming and engage additional staff members in conversations with funders. Other partners felt CSFF site visits are burdensome because they tend to be unstructured and CSFF can be heavy handed with advice during the visits. To further enhance the value of site visits, focus group participants recommended that CSFF spend more time absorbing the experience instead of giving unsolicited advice and send questions and a discussion agenda ahead of time. In addition, some partners noted that they are unable to engage in observation- or participation-oriented site visits due to the highly sensitive and confidential nature of their services. They emphasized that CSFF should understand that site visits with high-risk youth and families could potentially cause more harm than generate benefit.
“They really paid attention to what we do; gave us a ton of time and invested in the site visit.”
“We are also able to bring staff into those conversations which helps them learn.”
How we’re taking action
- Shifting to a Request for Partnership Support–similar to a Letter of Intent—that contains written responses to three short-answer questions, paired with an in-depth conversation/verbal application with CSFF staff. Since 2020, CSFF has paired applications with discussions to inform funding decisions. However, beginning in 2023, the new process will shift the bulk of the application process away from a written application and into a discussion. Applicants will have the option to submit written answers to discussion questions if desired. CSFF staff will document the in-depth conversation and share a copy with the partner for review and use in other settings.
- Focused site visits – with key discussion questions and objectives sent ahead of time to ease planning burden for hosting organizations. Also, we will ask organizations to put us to ‘work’ as volunteers or support people for site visits of key activities, where appropriate, to provide extra labor support to the organization and to provide an experiential site visit for CSFF staff and board members.
- Streamlined reporting – via check-in meetings rather than written reports. All partners will receive a core set of questions before the meeting, and CSFF staff will take responsibility for documenting partner responses from the check-in meeting. Applicants will have the option to submit written answers to discussion questions if desired. CSFF staff will document the check-in conversation and share a copy with the partner for review and use in other settings.
Learning for Decision-Making
With this learning lens, we wanted to examine if/how we catalyze a thriving nonprofit sector. We wanted to know:
- To what extent are partners able to leverage CSFF to access other funding and resources?
CSFF strives to serve as a resource beyond the check for Routt County nonprofits. We recognize that funders sit in a place of privilege in communities, and we endeavor to use that privilege to catalyze the sector by sharing knowledge, connecting community, and shouldering risk for early-stage ideas. Most survey respondents viewed CSFF as an important thought partner and connector, and about half of survey respondents identified CSFF as a leverage point for other funding and resources.
“CSFF has provided [seed] funding for us at the beginning of some initiatives. Because they believed in us (and challenged us) we were able to secure additional funds, additional partnerships, and ultimately be more sustainable.”
Both survey respondents and focus group participants said they would like to see CSFF play a more influential role in helping them access other funding and resources. Specifically, partners would benefit from introductions to Front Range funders as well as CSFF stepping into an advocacy role on behalf of the issues tied to partners’ missions.
How we’re taking action
- Building our internal capacity – to strengthen our advocacy efforts on behalf of our funding partners, with plans to hire an advocacy officer within the next 2-3 years
- Build community capacity – extend educational opportunities for funding partners to learn how to engage in and fund advocacy work
- Continue to listen to community – prioritize our intent to connect our partners with additional resources and continue to learn about community and partner needs
Learning for Impact
The goal of this learning lens is to observe changes in policies, practices, and systems over time. We wanted to know:
- To what extent has CSFF influenced how funding partners approach their work?
At CSFF, we understand that affecting lasting change in our region depends on upending systems and practices that no longer serve the nonprofit sector, and consequently, that hinder our community. We ask hard questions and challenge our partners to push the envelope on equity, interagency collaboration, outcome measurement, board leadership, and systems change, among others. We know that we are not alone in our efforts, and our influence on the sector in these areas is more difficult to pinpoint. However, some survey respondents shared that CSFF has influenced their work in key areas:
What’s more, focus group participants noted that CSFF programming and technical assistance supported their organizations to build capacity in key areas, such as board leadership and program evaluation.
How we’re taking action
- Keeping equity at the forefront of all funding conversations – in the 2023 update of our funding process, we explicitly ask funding partners to articulate how they work to reduce social and economic inequities in Routt County. By pushing our partners to think critically about the equity of their programs and practices, we hope to influence our community to take bold steps toward inclusion.
- Deepen our commitment to technical assistance – by offering more opportunities for funding partners to stretch and grow in the areas of board leadership and program evaluation. Recognizing that strong boards, inclusive practices, and solid outcome measurement practices contribute greatly to organizational stability, CSFF will continue to invest in local opportunities for funding partners in these areas.
Future iterations of feedback process
The learnings from this process were invaluable to CSFF as we continue our journey into trust-based philanthropy. We hold tremendous gratitude for the contributions and candor from our funding partners and community collaborators. As we roll out updates to our grantmaking process and relationship building in 2023, we will develop our next iteration of this feedback project in late 2024 or early 2025.