Trust in Philanthropy: Part Six — Feedback Fuels Future Success

Trust in Philanthropy: Part Six — Feedback Fuels Future Success

Posted on April 06, 2021 by John Ferguson, TPF Fellow 2020/21

Editor's Note: TPF values and approaches often mirror the fundamental principles of trust-based philanthropy. Throughout this series, TPF Fellow, John Ferguson, will explore how they intersect and what it could mean for the future of the philanthropic sector should it become the operational norm, instead of the rare exception.

Continue reading John Ferguson's blog series:


The Patterson Foundation (TPF) always strives for excellence in every endeavor. One important aspect of that journey is to carefully consider feedback on a continual basis. When we as practitioners regularly seek input from others and incorporate lessons learned into future efforts, we elevate our work and the experiences of those who partner with us or participate in our events and offerings. It's a win for all involved.

The fifth principle of trust-based philanthropy is to solicit and act on feedback. It is worth noting the two distinct parts of that principle:
  1. To solicit feedback.
  2. Act on the feedback received.
Many funders already engage in soliciting feedback from grantees and other partners, though likely we could all do so more often. The solicitation of feedback can take many forms. It can seek affirmation for a job well done, invite constructive criticism to improve whatever program or process is being evaluated, and shine a light on anything in between. It all depends on the questions asked. To paraphrase a popular nonprofit axiom, only ask for things you want to know and are willing to consider.

Once you receive the requested feedback, take the time to absorb it and contemplate how you might channel the comments and suggestions into making meaningful changes to your programs or processes. Everything evolves. Each iteration should improve over the last, not because something is wrong, but because of a relentless pursuit of excellence in all things.

At TPF, whenever we have an event, we send an after-action survey. These surveys are often short and take only a few minutes to complete. The questions are crafted to be open-ended and invite honest responses.

Examples include:
  • What is one thing you will do as a result of your participation today?
  • What was your most significant takeaway?
  • What do you wish we would have done differently?
  • What else would you like us to know?
So how does this translate to the grantmaking arena? Most funders seek to support their grantees in helpful and meaningful ways. Many have systems in place to provide those supports. And while that can be quite important to the grantee's success and their programs, it is often not the funder who has the most insight into what supports a nonprofit might need. It is the nonprofit itself who knows best. Through transparency and the solicitation of and action on feedback, funders and grantees can work together to improve the overall grant cycle experience for all involved.

This becomes even more important when a funder considers a significant change in process or focus area(s). Previous feedback from grantees can help inform potential changes and even help create buy-in before they occur, especially if grantees see their comments reflected in the proposed changes.

Feedback is the fuel that drives an organization's future success. Establishing a feedback loop can help build trust, deepen partnerships, and create a culture of continual improvement. When trust is present, feedback is natural. And when feedback is natural, our work evolves with each iteration as we continually strive for excellence every day.

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