The second part of the community conversations centered on how to deepen the relationship between the foundation and individual organizations, along with a discussion about what was working well with the foundation and areas for improvement.
Here is what we heard:
Some of the strengths of the Cleveland Foundation noted by the participants were that we were approachable, helpful, had good knowledge of the community, open about funding shifts, and were forward thinkers. Some participants expressed appreciation for our role as convener, particularly in bringing together multiple funders while others noted the foundation’s leadership in various sectors such as aging. One participant stated that “the program officers are accessible and provide good guidance – they want grantees to succeed.”
While gains have been made in the online grantmaking system, it was clear from our participants that there were still technological glitches and that there was room to improve. Other areas for improvement including making sure information is accessible and searchable on our website, standardizing forms and reporting systems, more connection to donors as well as clarity around access to donors, donor-advised funds and supporting organizations, and more specific feedback on declines.
Several participants expressed the desire for the foundation to provide general operating grants rather than just project support, which is something we also heard last year. As a result of this comment, we talked about the importance of recognizing that programs can not happen without infrastructure – staff, space, tools, etc. – and that this was an important part of telling the story of the organization. In addition, it was important for the foundation to also articulate the importance of infrastructure to achieving the outcomes in the project being funded.
For the third question, how do we build better relationships with grantees, there were lots of great ideas! We heard it was important to maintain our commitment to site visits, to attend other events when possible and friend you on Facebook. Some also expressed appreciation in how we have embraced social media tools like Twitter and Flickr to reach out to grantees and to tell stories of our grantees work. You asked us to continue to provide introductions to other funders or “shakers and movers” as one grantee noted, including national partners. (And we reminded you that if you are approaching a national partner to let us know as well.) A few asked us to consider how we could improve or increase our role in identifying and facilitating partnerships or “match-making” to help with collaboration. Others appreciate our networking opportunities and encouraged us to continue to promote this aspect of our work.
In one meeting, there was a discussion about how foundations could support the nonprofit sector in these challenging times. For example, individual agencies are faced with negotiating lines of credit with banks which in many instances are needed due to delays in getting reimbursements from public sector funding. Organizations are providing the critical service, waiting for the dollars and struggling with cash flow. Is there a way to highlight this situation and find a more systemic solution?
On behalf of the community responsive team, I want to thank all of you for informing our work! Please continue to share your knowledge with us. I am looking forward to attending the community conversation that will focus on Lake and Geauga counties next week and will also share and compare what we learn from that dialogue.