Dear Longwood Grantees and Applicants,
As we begin 2014, I want to take a moment to thank you for your continued engagement in Delaware and Chester County PA and for your efforts on behalf of the entire community. Much has been accomplished over the past year and even more lies before us. At Longwood, we are acutely aware that our grants have little value if they are not managed by strong non-profit organizations capable of great things. We are always seeking the strongest partners to make good use of the funds we have available.
Last year, many of you invested a few minutes of your time to complete a survey about Longwood sent to you by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). They are a non-profit that specializes in improving the relationships between funders and non-profits around the country. The survey sent to you is one that they have sent to thousands of non-profits on behalf of hundreds of foundations over the past decade. As a result, they are able to tease out the meaning of your responses relative to those given to similar foundations (each of your responses is kept confidential and Longwood only sees the aggregated results). You may recall that we did the same survey three years ago. So, in addition to comparing ourselves to other regional and national foundations, we were able to compare our current results with those of three years ago.
We are pleased and humbled to see that the Foundation continued to receive very strong marks for impact on grantees’ organizations (99th percentile when compared to the entire CEP database, similar to 2010 results) and for the impact we have on grantees’ fields (97th percentile, similar to 2010) and the communities they serve (98th percentile, similar to 2010). Since the 2010 survey, Longwood has made an increasing number of operating grants which has been received well. In fact, in this survey, you have expressed a desire for more operating funding. The impact that Longwood’s funding can have on the welfare of our community will continue to be our primary objective. We plan to consider both operating and capital proposals as we move forward.
You also gave the Foundation high marks (top quartile) for the quality of the relationship we have with you – both in general and in your contact(s) with the Foundation. Most significantly, we are pleased to see that both grantees and applicants feel we have meaningfully improved the clarity with which we communicate our goals and strategies. We have been working to improve in this area and are gratified to see that the efforts have been recognized. Since 2010, we also added a follow up phone call with every organization that applied for a grant (whether it was funded or not) to explain the Trustees’ funding decision. We will continue this process into the future.
The survey results also indicate that the grantee’s experience was more meaningful when they interacted with someone on the Longwood team in the grant selection process. As a result, one of our staff will reach out to every organization that submits a grant request via our website. We will either schedule a meeting or a phone call to discuss each request. Should you have a need to speak to us before submitting your request, please feel free to call. To better manage this, we will be increasing our staffing from four to five – we welcome Lauren Petrusky to the team in February – and adding some of Steve Martinenza’s time to the grant selection process alongside the time already dedicated by Joanne Reilly and me.
Similarly, grantees indicated a better experience when they had a conversation with someone on the Longwood team about the evaluation of their grant (typically about a year after the grant). To this end, we successfully piloted a “cohort evaluation” process last fall that engaged all of our team, including Sandee Drew, in meeting with all of the non-profits that received grants in the fall of 2011. Most of these investments were yielding valuable results (in two cases, three times the expected outcomes at the time of the grant!) and a few were not even in process yet. The conversations we had about all of these were very valuable to us and have led us to make a few changes to the grant selection process.
•First, we re-confirmed that leadership really matters – specifically pragmatic, execution oriented leadership. Thus, we want to meet with every organization applying for a grant. We would like to meet the senior-most leader in your organization and Board Chair, if possible. We want to gain some comfort that your organization and your Board are prepared for the inevitable bumps in the road that lie between you and the outcomes you are seeking.
- Second, we will continue to push for more clarity and achievable ambition in the proposed outcome metrics. We remain eager to hear the qualitative story and goals of your organization – they are critical to your ambition and impact on the community. However, it’s very unlikely that the Trustees will make a future grant without some outcome metrics and ambition for improvement included. Therefore, we also want to hear how you will know you are making progress and just how much progress you expect to make as a result of the grant request – your quantitative outcomes. It’s been our experience that a conversation about these is always valuable, helps us understand them, and sometimes helps you gain clarity about them.
- Third, we noted that some organizations were not putting our funds to immediate use. So, the Trustees will be not only interested in how you expect to invest the grant funds, they will also be interested in when you will invest them. As you know, Longwood generally does not like to fund more than half of a project. Where possible and appropriate, they will prefer that Longwood’s grant be “the last dollars in” to the effort.
In addition to the routine reporting of results which grantees are already doing, we will continue this “cohort evaluation” roughly 18-20 months after you receive your grants. You should expect to hear from us in this time frame and we look forward to robust conversations about your progress at that time.
We are excited about the year ahead. We have grant investments with many of your organizations and we look forward to seeing them come to fruition. Notably, we have made a handful of grants that we view as potentially impacting more than the recipient organization (we call these “systemic” investments). DANA continues to make strong progress in support of all Delaware non-profits and specifically improving their Board level processes. And this summer, the Community Education Building will be opening its doors to hundreds of Wilmington students with the goal of improving the educational opportunities for low income Wilmington residents.
As always, we are eager to hear about the work you are doing in your non-profit and welcome the chance to sit down and discuss it. Please feel free to reach out if we can be of help.