Early this year, in a warm and supportive webinar discussion, I launched a research paper entitled “How Foundations and Funders Listen: A Qualitative Review in Europe and Brazil” and presented the findings that resulted from my work as a visiting researcher at Maecenata Foundation in Berlin.

My research and this paper’s publication started from the perspective that it is essential not only to listen and collect data for internal learning purposes but to effectively take the voices of people primarily affected by philanthropic efforts into account to make decisions when building a responsible philanthropic practice.

This focus was also inspired by the work published by Maecenata Foundation, “Trust in Philanthropy: a Report on the Philanthropy; Insight Project 2018-2021,” which analyses how society legitimises trust in philanthropy and creates a self-assessment trust tool for funders and foundations. The interview script for my research was also built upon the work of the “high-quality feedback loop” put forth by organizations like Feedback Labs, Keystone Accountability, and Ekouté Consulting.

With a variety of different aspects of the listening process analyzed, including challenges in the process, different project phases where listening occurs, who is listened to, listening methods, space for feedback, reporting back processes, power imbalances and levels of participation, and after analysis of 30 interviews, I was finally presenting the results.

The research is qualitative with no comparative ambition, and I was, during the whole presentation, in a researcher’s objective mode — focused on what the data showed. The choice to separate my personal preferences and lived experience — I’m Brazilian and I built my professional life working in the NGO sector in Brazil for more than 10 years — was not just intentional, but necessary in order to do the analysis. That is, until the end of the Q&A session, when this question came up: “In your opinion, with all that data, are funder listening practices better in Brazil or in Europe?”

Why do I think the Brazilian organisations in the research are listening better in comparison to those in Europe?

Yes, that was my response, even though we have, in Europe, more institutionalized listening processes, more methods, and more budget in comparison to funders in Brazil.

Aside from my personal experience, my opinion was heavily based on three factors: when funders listen, geographic reach, and the finding that 58 percent of the organizations in Brazil have shared that non-institutionalized feedback occurs in meetings with grantees, against 23 percent of organizations in Europe.

When managing a social project, having a funding partner that listens during the implementation phase is key. Social projects tackle complex problems, and the relationship and trust built during this period are essential, particularly when flexibility is needed for innovation, for changing routes when needed, and even for evaluation.

Read the full article about funder listening practices by Luísa Bonin at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.