I spoke with Lia Parifax, director, Executive Initiatives, at the Arcus Foundation, about the thoughtful process that she and her colleagues observed throughout their most recent CEP engagement. Their approach to collecting grantees’ and external stakeholders’ perceptions and engaging their staff in planning can be a helpful model for others interested in using perceptual data for an inclusive and action-oriented learning process.

Designing the Survey: What Do You Want To Learn?

Mena Boyadzhiev: Could you share a brief description of the project that we worked on together last year?

Lia Parifax: We connected in early 2020 to design a custom survey to assess grantee perceptions about specific aspects of the Arcus Foundation. Arcus has had the benefit of participating in CEP’s GPR for several years: we did GPRs in 2015 and 2008, and we are committed to periodically checking in on grantee perceptions of our approach, our work, our interactions. As we came to the opportunity to gauge perceptions again in 2020 and 2021, we thought a lot about why we benefit from grantee perception data and how we use it to inform decisions. We really wanted to ground our data collection in an underlying imperative for learning and responsiveness.

So the question was really, in order to learn what? When we’d done the benchmarkable grantee perception survey, it gave us a sense of how we were doing overall compared to other funders, and because we didn’t design the questions, it showed us issues or opportunities that had not been obvious for us — to see what we might not even be looking for. There’s tremendous value in that. What we wanted to do now was think about what we were trying to achieve in our interactions and relationships with grantees.

MB: In this last, customized, targeted survey, what were you aiming to learn?

LP: We sat down with CEP to build a custom survey with a very clear, focused, scope. For the last three years, we have been building an organization-wide approach to monitoring and evaluation. That approach covers two definitions of success: our program impact — the extent to which our interventions in the field are contributing to meaningful change consistent with our programmatic goals — and our organizational performance. The latter includes things like having high-quality relationships that are deeply collaborative and based in trust and a low-burden, efficient approach for grantees; also our institutional culture: diversity, equity, and inclusion, clean audits, and well-managed budgets.

We’ve been building out these measures of performance, getting clear on what we mean by success on those goal areas, and determining how we want to measure progress. While we don’t measure our impact using perception data, we do measure our performance using perception data, complementary to other measures that are developed internally. All together, this gives us a snapshot of our performance married up against our grantmaking impact to give us a view of the whole.

Read the full article about a targeted review of stakeholder feedback by Mena Boyadzhiev at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.