As our team at Moses Taylor Foundation began responding to the impacts of COVID-19 in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we were uncertain where we’d land. But we knew exactly where to begin: with listening.

And as we continue to wrestle with so many questions — How do we handle all our partners needing significant support at the same time? How do we act quickly and decisively while also preparing for the long-term implications of this unfolding crisis? — we lean on feedback to inform our answers. We’re inviting grantees to share what they’re experiencing, calling nonprofit leaders to check in on their evolving needs, and conducting spot surveys to test specific strategies for support.

This kind of outreach and partnership is not new to us. From the Foundation’s beginnings eight years ago, we’ve valued the practice of listening. We conducted listening tours to shape our initial grantmaking approach. When I joined as a new CEO who was also new to the area, gathering in-person data was particularly helpful, and it signaled the Foundation’s conviction that the solutions we aimed to support were with those in our community closest to the challenges. I couldn’t wait until we had enough years of grantmaking under our belt to conduct our first Grantee and Applicant Perception Reports. We were eager to test the degree to which our partners felt our actions were aligned with our values and aims.

Not long thereafter, it was by walking with a group of our grantees through the Fund for Shared Insight’s Listen4Good capacity-building initiative that we truly came to appreciate listening as a central strategy for achieving our mission. Participating in the program also offered the opportunity to support a cohort of grantees through a shared learning experience. Prior to Listen4Good, we had supported important but unrelated capacity-building projects for individual nonprofits in our region. Now, we had the chance to learn alongside our grantees as partners and to consider how their learning could inform our grantmaking strategies.

We nominated a diverse group of health and human service grantees in our region — based mostly on their interest and readiness for a deep dive into listening and feedback — to participate in Listen4Good. When all five of our nominated grantees were selected to participate, we formed an informal learning community. Our partners came together each quarter over lunch to compare notes and share their evolving learning on the complexities of truly listening to the people they seek to serve. Together, they worked to equip their leadership teams and boards to make decisions based on feedback and identify meaningful ways to close the feedback loop — circling back with clients to share how they were using the input they received.

Read the full article about learning to listen by LaTida Smith at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.