This is the third in a series of posts contributed by the Feedback Incentives Learning Group, a group of funders convened by Feedback Labs that are dedicated to encouraging peer funders to listen to the people most harmed by the systems and structures they seek to change and to supporting their grantees to listen as well. In this blog series, learning group members share their insight into and experiences with encouraging foundations and nonprofits to listen and respond to the people who are most impacted but often least consulted by philanthropy and nonprofits. The first blog in this series is here and the second blog is here. We hope this series provides inspiration and guidance for those looking to listen better and, ultimately, encourages action.

Foundation behavior is notoriously hard to change, and foundations are better at getting nonprofits to change than at changing themselves.

In the opening post in this series, several funder colleagues from the Feedback Incentives Learning Group wrote compellingly about the need for funders and nonprofits to re-center their work around the voices and perspectives of the people and communities impacted by their decisions.

In a follow-up post, Megan Campbell and Madison McDaniel of Feedback Labs explored the results of a survey of more than 100 foundation representatives and what their responses tell us about how foundations are providing support to help grantees listen to those they serve.

The survey results are encouraging. A significant majority of respondents ask current or prospective grantees how they listen, and most of those who don’t are considering doing so. More than a third of the surveyed funders offer some form of capacity-building support for listening, and a majority of those who don’t say they are considering it in the future.

We’ve seen this borne out in our work at Fund for Shared Insight as nearly 150 funders have supported more than 600 nonprofit partners to participate in Listen4Good, Shared Insight’s signature capacity-building initiative for direct-service nonprofits.

Nonprofits participating in Listen4Good have gained valuable insights into how to change their programs based on feedback from the people who experience them. And the exercise of learning and changing in partnership with program participants has often led to larger shifts in organizational culture — changes that at their best shift power, change systems, and contribute to more equitable outcomes.

The growing number of foundations that are supporting their grantees’ listening work, as illustrated by the survey results and the growth of Listen4Good, does raise a significant question: If listening and feedback are powerful and transformative practices for nonprofits, shouldn’t funders also be listening?

At Shared Insight, our goal has always been to encourage funders — not just nonprofits — to listen to the people and communities most impacted by their decisions. We are enormously encouraged by the growing number of funders of all types that are willing to support their grantee partners to do better listening. And we think that foundations should also be listening.

We’ve been told — and we recognize — that foundations can be large and complex institutions, with programmatic silos that may operate with a great deal of autonomy. Convincing a few people or a single team that listening matters may not lead to organization-wide change.

We’ve also heard that some foundations are reluctant to listen because they’re not sure they’ll be able to act on what they hear. Or because they may hear things that are inconsistent with current funding priorities and strategies. And some funders are rightfully wary of making additional requests of grantees and communities that may exacerbate existing power imbalances or come across as extractive.

These are all real or at least perceived barriers to funder listening. They also reflect and can contribute to persistent inequities.

Read the full article about shifting listening practices by Rick Moyers at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.