YouthTruth sat down with Dr. J. Michael Durnil, president and CEO of Simon Youth Foundation (SYF), to learn more about how listening to beneficiary voice has helped SYF in its mission to help high school students who are on the verge of dropping out graduate and pursue post-secondary educational opportunities.

YouthTruth: What aspects of your work at the foundation have been informed by student feedback?

Dr. J. Michael Durnil: This data helps us communicate our impact with our donors, our community partners, our school district partners, our teachers, and ultimately, with our students. The YouthTruth survey has given us a common language to talk about what makes us unique, what are the outcomes of the work we do, where the donor dollars go, and how those investments impact students’ lives directly.

YT: How does stakeholder voice matter to staff and leaders at SYF?

JMD: As a foundation, we sit in a unique space within the education community, the corporate world, and the philanthropic sector. That’s a very sacred space. And we have to bring something unique to the table. We know the work of the foundation is to engage the disenfranchised. The students who we work with are often on the margins, and it is so critical to hear what they need and make sure that we can advocate for what they need. Listening to each student helps us fulfill our mission of reaching students where they are and help them across that graduation stage.

YT: What have you seen in the data, and what did you change as a result?

JMD:  Through feedback, students tell us what they need, what they’re missing, what they’re thinking. With this student insight, I become equipped with an immediate strategy or agenda. With the student input, I can go out and find additional resources and bring them to bear to our academies, to our districts, to our communities.

Read the full article about avoiding bias by Kelson Goldfine at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.